Corporate Social ResponsibilitySustainability

Building sustainability into your business model

Sustainability is increasingly a major factor for consumers when choosing brands to do business with – and this behavior is migrating into the business-to-business (B2B) world. This means that it should be a core strategic priority for any business, whether a startup or a multinational conglomerate, to build sustainability into its business model.

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are closely related concepts. Any firm that wants to be a responsible citizen should include sustainability into its business practices. This means that the business’ activities should not cause harm to

  1. the environment, e.g. through pollution, excessive land use, etc.
  2. to human rights, whether due to consumption of the products the business is offering, or in the supply chain, or directly in the business’ operations.
  3. to political processes;  the activities of the company should not contribute to eroding democracy or support oppressive regimes.

Let us call these our three sustainability tenets; environment, human rights and democracy.

Your business model is not sustainable just because you and your employees take public transportation. By building sustainability into your business model as part of your firm’s core fabric you can have a real and tangible impact on the future of our planet, the people who live here, and the societies we live in. 

Integrating sustainability into your business model

What does all of this have to do with business models? A good business model would typically include your value proposition, your supply chain relationships and channels, your revenue channels and your cost structure. Where does sustainability in particular, and SCR more generally fit in?

It should be incorporated into all of your business model thinking – but it is also important enough to deserve its own explicit definition category. There are two paths that can be taken when it comes to sustainability objectives; either

  • we shall not harm the environment, human rights or democracy; or
  • we shall contribute to improving the environment, human rights and democracy.

I would suggest the following questions become part of your sustainability analysis for your business model:

  • What is the impact of our overall value proposition on the sustainability tenets (environment, human rights and democracy)?
  • What is the impact of our supply chain relationships and channels on sustainability, and how can we optimize our operations to improve our sustainability impact?
  • Under revenue and cost structure: how can we incorporate financial performance indicators that measure our sustainability impact (e.g. by adding proxy capital charges to pollution, etc.)

What is doing to integrate sustainability into its operations? has one overarching sustainability goal: to help people build it into their business models – helping other businesses take care of their impact on the environment, human rights and democracy. To do this, we plan to integrate the following into our tools portfolio over the summer 2017:

  • Sustainability category addition to the business model canvas
  • Sustainability risk checking tool for selection of supply chain partners
  • A standardized audit tool to review the consistency between business model goals and actual practices in operations

If you believe more people should make sustainability a core business priority, share this post with them, and ask them to visit and like us on

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