Owens Corning: Where Pink is Green
Owens Corning, most known for the pink insulation that is in most homes, is focused on innovation for the next 75 years by building from their core. With a history of innovative products, Owens Corning is uniquely situated to take advantage of the trend toward more sustainable buildings.
Moving beyond roofing and insulation, an open innovation platform allows the company to partner with other companies and turn knowledge from outside the firm into value for their customers and Owens Corning.
John Hillenbrand, VP & Chief Innovation Officer, discusses Eco-Touch, a product that capitalizes on a new technology that uses sugar byproducts to create insulation. Owens Corning became a joint development partner, using its manufacturing and technical expertise to develop a product that is 58% recycled, formaldehyde-free and made from 99% natural materials. Instead of the original brown, they kept their signature color: “Pink is the New Green.”
In another example, Mr. Hillenbrand mentioned a safe latex product that is sprayed on as an extruded bead with conventional machines, sealing leakage along seams in a house or business. It stays spongy over the life of the product, unlike competitors’ products, which eventually dry out and crumble. Most buildings exchange air 15-25 times an hour, Mr. Hillenbrand said. This means very high heating and cooling costs. The goal is an air exchange around 5 times an hour, which Owens Corning’s product meets 98% of the time as opposed to the 88% of competitors’ products. “We could see about a mile of opportunities,” he said. And yet sales were poor.
Instead of redesigning their product or spending money on a huge advertising campaign, they started interviewing customers and the dealers who sold the product. A major barrier was the equipment used to extrude the product. Since Owens Corning is not a machine manufacturer, they partnered with another company to develop a machine that is easy to set up, maneuver and clean. They also found partners to provide packaging for the components, application, manufacture and service. What this meant was building long-term relationships with the vendors who sell and use their products.
How to Assess a Partnership
When discussing lessons learned, Mr. Hillenbrand said that partnerships are about access, not control, adding that:
- A thoughtful and well-written Joint Development Agreement may be worth the effort versus a simple Confidentiality Agreement.
- Your initial attraction to a partner might be the unique technology or channel access, but lasting partnerships are built on a foundation of mutual trust and cultural compatibility.
- Find partners who can contribute to multiple growth opportunities.
- For truly business-critical initiatives, demand a dedicated team and dedicated leader (a.k.a. supervising executive) – and ensure your partner(s) is/are equally committed and resourced.
He concluded by saying that if you’re not the first to market, you’d better commit to being the best. He cautions that companies should never underestimate the challenges of bringing a new solution to market, but he believes that if you start with knowing your limitations and facing reality, you can find the right partners. He also believes that there is no real substitute for real science, particularly when it is backed by IP protection.
In the final analysis, Open Innovation is not free or easy, and won’t change a corporate culture overnight – even when there is a big success. But as he said, “If you believe you’re a commodity, you’re right. There are plenty of opportunities to innovate and differentiate versus competition, even in the category you created 75 years ago.”