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Sustainable Business Models – A Demand Side Perspective

As a convener of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group (SSBMG) at OCAD University’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) I am committed to developing tools and methods to help organizations become more sustainable. As such I am thrilled with the research of colleagues like Antony Upward in developing an exhaustive business model ontology and deriving new visual tools from it (a super version of the BM Canvas tool developed by Alex Osterwalder). It struck me, however, that not withstanding all the good intentions behind the development of the many tools and methods trying to achieve the same, they all can be classified as “supply side” solutions, that is beautiful and interesting solutions developed without seriously researching what the needs of the intended users are.  I set out therefore to add “demand side” research stream to the research agenda of SSBMG.

To investigate users needs we thought we would start by better understanding how important business decisions are made in organizations and at what stage of that decision process business model considerations come in. We were interested particularly in decision-making processes in situations  involving trade-offs between economic, social and environmental elements. The first steps in that direction was to investigate the mindset of leaders in organizations that are progressive in their views on balancing these elements. This research is currently underway through a Major Research Project by Ben McCammon as part of his  degree requirement at the Strategic Foresight & Innovation (SFI) Masters program. Ben is using the design probe method to collect information on the mindset of leaders in Canadian B-Corps. I am anticipating reading about his findings before the end of this year.

The next step will be to do the same research on regular organizations and comparing the two mind sets and decision making processes to better understand how decisions pertaining to sustainability are made and what the optimal leverage points would be to influence this process. The aspiration is to use these insights to inform the design of tools and methods intended to assist organizations become more sustainable.

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