Business for the sustainable development
How to use business as a tool for positive impact
In my experience as a designer and consultant, I’ve seen how even small and medium companies can be an agent of change in making the world
a better place to live in. For this reason, I strongly believe that business could be an effective real player in providing solutions for sustainable development. I will explore with you how can companies include sustainable development in their strategies to respond to the
grand challenges of this world. We will also observe some of the best examples where business and innovative brands play a leadership role to
make the difference.
The idea that business can be a tool for a positive impact is gaining appeal and importance around the world because of a growing number of
companies taking steps to be more sustainable, responsible and ethical. The wave of companies going green is even more important if seen in a
global perspective under the light of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) suggested by the United Nation. To achieve this goal in the next 15 years, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like me and you.
How can companies make the Sustainable Development Goals part of their strategies?
The key answer is in the ability of companies to apply fundamentally different approaches to the value creation. This could happen if they
are ready to change their current approach and launch new innovative business models. As is defined in the book “Business Model Generation”, business models are the “fundamental structures for how companies create, deliver and capture value” and this value is also to solve our environmental problems aligning the company’s own sustainability goals with goals for the broader society.
Responsible and sustainable business operations, new business models, investment, innovation, and collaboration are all elements to design or redesign for the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not enough to work only on specifical gradual
improvements or on product and process innovation to compete on the market, to build a strong successful model is necessary to look at the
entire business ecosystem.
I’ve worked with companies involved in making their business more sustainable and, one of the best tools I’ve used to assess
sustainability and to see the big picture of an organization is the Business Model Canvas. This is a visual layout to take a picture of an organization’s essential ingredients and their relations between each other, which can be used to redesign a company model of doing business. I’m always concerned about the model of impact that a company can deliver to our society, so I always found very important to include this aspect also in the business model. To help companies to integrate sustainable development and social innovation in their strategies I’ve designed my own version of the famous Business Models Canvas by Strategyzer including these two aspects also visually.
Which are the advantages of a company investing in sustainability?
Sustainability is today an essential ingredient for a company’s long-term success, first of all, because investing in waste reduction or elimination, energy optimization, ethical and ecological supply chains always pay back making company saving money. The second reason to change for a more sustainable company’s DNA is the opportunity to build new markets around the world and be a leader with innovative and disruptive ideas. The market of products based on the circular economy, biomimicry, recycling or upcycling is increasing and flourishing with a public willing to pay a higher price for high-quality and high-eco-friendly products and services. There is no incompatibility between a company’s ethical, sustainable and social values and achieving good financial results, in fact, there’s a lot of example of successful business models where the profitability depends on integrating social and environmental values into the core of business strategies. The ability to attract
capital for investments in high social and environmental impact activities will make a company stand out as a global leader of change.
5 great business models example for the sustainable development
There are plenty of good examples of responsible companies that are responding to the call for more sustainability and good impact business
models. I bring you some of the greatest answers to the grand challenges of today. They show that business for good, combined with innovation and collaboration, can be a powerful agent of changes in markets and societies.
End of poverty
One of the best ways to tackle the world’s poverty is to empower people through jobs and their own ability to sustain themselves and
their families. The concept of microfinance and microcredit was first launched by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank, the bank for the poor. Today Kiva is one of the most powerful organizations having a big impact by landing loans on a community-based online platform for small entrepreneurs and poor families.
LAST MINUTE MARKET
When the zero waste movement wasn’t already so famous and the battle against food waste was only at the beginning, in Italy born the Last
Minute Market, a research initiatives, and today an entrepreneurial society working at Italian national level developing local projects to recover unsold goods (marketable or not) in favor of non-profit organizations.
Living Goods is a game-changing model of business in the Health sector investing in Africa with a “Life-Saving Products Home Delivery
Service” for the poor. It empowers African women by giving them a job as Community Health Promoters selling medicine and assists poor families that can have access to cheaper medicine. The Living Goods hybrid model generates retail revenues that recover 100 percent of the product costs, a retail margin that provides motivating incomes for the agents, and wholesale margins that cover much of the field distribution costs. A model that is having a big impact reducing child deaths by 27%.
Clean Water Sanitation
Clean Team is a comprehensive sanitation service system that delivers and maintains toilets in the homes of subscribers. It serves today
4,500 people in Ghana making lives cleaner, healthier, and more dignified. The innovative design approach to this start-up project, led
by ideo.org, generated an eco-sustainable business model with a close loop, where also human waste is transformed into an energy resource that returns to the community in the form of electricity.
Affordable and Clean Energy
d.light is a leader in delivering affordable solar energy solutions designed for the two billion people in the developing world without
access to reliable energy. A social enterprise that, providing a wide range of products for households and small businesses that don’t need to
be connected to the electrical grid, has an impact on over 75 million people’s lives.