We are committed to creating solutions that positively impact people and the environment. To this end, we are determined to make discoveries that change the landscape of entire industries and drive technological as well as scientific innovation to solve the most critical issues of today and tomorrow. Customers, investors and regulators across our markets are increasingly seeking sustainable product solutions.
Our approach to creating sustainable innovation and technology
The sustainable innovation that we envision or drive forward must align with and support the three goals of our sustainability strategy. We define sustainable innovation as new or improved products, services, technologies, or processes that generate economic benefits and have positive environmental and social impacts. Therefore, we develop long-term solutions for our innovation and research activities that consider the entire value chain and evaluate each product’s impact over its lifecycle.
Today, our products already have a positive impact on human progress and global health, namely our medicines and our biological and chemical innovations that utilize the latest technologies. We want to continuously improve the way we measure our progress by adapting and integrating sustainability criteria into our product development processes across the business sectors.
In 2022, we continued our partnership with the well-established patent information platform LexisNexis® PatentSight®. In this context, we created a framework to evaluate the sustainability impact of our intellectual property. For 2022, we evaluated the baseline for the first time and identified that 27% of our patent families published that year have a positive sustainability impact based on LexisNexis® PatentSight®.
To develop pioneering solutions that have a positive impact on society and support organic growth, we are exploring transformative technologies beyond our core products and markets. At the same time, we maintain strategic proximity to our business sectors to leverage our existing assets and capabilities. Business model innovation, including digital business models, is one approach we use to generate value for our business and stakeholders.
We fuel transformative technologies through internal incubation, partnerships or strategic investments and collaboration with academia. In addition, we continually seek to foster and encourage open innovation.
Roles and responsibilities
The organizational set-up of our R&D activities reflects the overall structure of our company. All three of our business sectors operate independent R&D units that pursue their own innovation strategies. Group Corporate Sustainability supports our business sectors and Group functions to advance and integrate sustainability within the R&D and innovation processes in line with our shared goals. We developed a methodology for creating a Group-wide overview of the potential contribution of our R&D portfolio towards sustainable solutions that went live in December 2022.
Our Group Science & Technology Office leads the implementation of our combined strategy for innovation, data and digital, enabling innovation across our business sectors while harnessing the power of advanced data and digital capacities. It aims to identify and integrate transformative, strategically relevant technology trends into our business sectors while maintaining a Group-wide view of our tech roadmap and innovation portfolio. Fostering data and digital capacities is key to accelerating sustainable innovation and enabling rapid action and personalized offerings. Innovation projects are incubated either through our corporate innovation teams or in the business sectors.
Our venture capital fund, M Ventures, prioritizes sustainable innovations through equity investments. The fund’s mandate is to invest in innovative technologies and products that have the potential to significantly impact our core business areas. In addition, the fund focuses on investments in two areas of high strategic relevance to our company: digital technology and sustainability.
M Ventures’ sustainability investment strategy follows two fundamental approaches. First, it invests in sustainable solutions relevant to our three business sectors, such as novel solutions for reducing emissions and waste, green life science technologies and green electronics technologies. These solutions may be more energy- or resource-efficient or may create products designed for circularity or with a lower carbon footprint. As many of these technologies are still in their early stages, M Ventures is partnering with SEMI.org along with the leading corporate venture capital funds to help accelerate the innovation and adoption of potential sustainable semiconductor solutions.
The second approach involves making investments that leverage our core competencies to drive sustainability in other markets. These may include start-ups addressing sustainable foods, bio-manufacturing, or carbon capture and utilization.
Our commitment: Aiming for circularity
Within our R&D processes, we are committed to continuously improving and integrating sustainability and circular economy criteria to assess the sustainability performance of our products and portfolio. For example, our Life Science business sector developed Design for Sustainability (DfS) and the DOZN™ tool to create more sustainable products for our customers. In 2022, we tailored and rolled out the DfS concept to our two other business sectors and integrated an overarching company dashboard. In 2023, we aim to generate an understanding of our R&D portfolio and use the insights to steer future R&D activities. Therefore, we have developed an indicator to track our progress.
Furthermore, the Electronics business sector launched a web-based application to automatically extract process and reaction data from research, development and manufacturing databases to calculate and evaluate carbon footprint of our operations. This allows sustainable decision making to reduce resource consumption as well as direct and indirect CO2 emissions from chemical processes. The app has been launched in September of 2022.
In addition, we have dedicated corporate resources for our circular economy strategy and we are driving several circular economy pilots and initiatives throughout the organization.
More information on sustainable product design can be found in the Sustainable products & packaging chapter.
Accelerating the future of food: Cultured meat
Our Cultured Meat Innovation Field focuses on the biotechnology required to grow real meat in vitro. These research and commercial efforts aim to enable animal protein production that is healthier, more ethical and environmentally sustainable. As a technology enabler, we are leveraging our vast life science expertise to realize our vision of providing fit-for-purpose bioprocessing products and services for cultured meat production. In addition to building strong connections and partnerships with start-ups, academia and leading organizations, we are working on innovation projects to address specific technology challenges, such as cell culture media and bioreactor designs that are cost-effective and suitable for this emerging field.
To achieve production at scale, the cell culture media must be cost-efficient, produced from a robust food-grade raw material supply chain, suitable for effective growth and differentiation into specific cell types, and free of any animal-derived material such as fetal bovine serum. Our flagship project MeatDia aims to build a food-grade raw material supply chain via performance testing in research labs and qualification in one of our production facilities to manufacture the required media formulations. In addition, we have established multiple partnerships with leading start-ups that are building pilot-scale manufacturing facilities. We are supplying dry powdered cell culture media, to these customers, who are bringing the first cultured meat products to market.
Another technological challenge is the need for suitable bioreactor designs to efficiently produce structured cuts of meat rather than lesser-value ground meat. CraftRidge is our flagship bioreactor project focused on delivering an edible hollow fiber bioreactor system that can produce entire cuts of meat cost-effectively. In parallel, we are collaborating with two leading academic labs. Together with a team at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA, we aim to enable the production of whole-muscle cultured meat through textile bioengineering. At the same time, we will apply industrial rapid printing technology to create complex meat structures in collaboration with a team at the Technical University of Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt) in Germany.
Our M Ventures portfolio includes Mosa Meat, a pioneer in cultured meat, and Formo, a company focused on making cultured cheeses using recombinant protein synthesis.
Fruitful strategic partnership
Our long-term commitment to academic research partnerships reflects our strong ambition to find sustainable solutions to pressing problems. In the framework of the Sustainability Hub, which was established in 2021, we continued our strategic collaboration with the TU Darmstadt in multidisciplinary fundamental research projects. The projects cover basic challenges of life cycle modelling, 3D liver tissue model, biodegradation of plastics and the simulation of neuromorphic computing architectures. The ongoing research continues to increase our understanding of product sustainability assessment, toxicological testing of drugs, circular material flows and energy efficient computing, respectively.
Promoting visionary research
The 2022 Future Insight Prize recognized achievements in energy technologies that help reverse the effects of climate change. The € 1 million prize was awarded to Professor Tobias Erb, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg, Germany. His research enables solutions that make it possible to convert CO2 into valuable chemical products, which can then be used as feedstock for fuel.
In 2022, we again offered sustainability research grants to the scientific community to stimulate innovative research and sponsored two research grants: Sustainability in Healthcare R&D and Innovation within Green Chemistry. In total, we received more than 200 research proposals from around the world. Selected projects will receive funding in 2023.
We also entered into a cooperation agreement with Esy-Labs GmbH, the winner of one of our research grants in 2021. In addition to funding research activities through the grant, we initiated long-term collaboration by hosting the research activities of this company at the emerging GreenTech Park FLUXUM in Gernsheim, Germany.