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Alexander Osterwalder's Business model Canvas due for an update.

After almost two decades of chasing shareholder value increase, visiting numerous plants and countless tradefairs all over the world, In 2015 I decided that just making more money for shareholders wasn’t enough (Yes I was late with that insight). Thus I left the corporate world and started my own company (kind-ID |Innovation direction and later Sustar| practical navigators to sustainable business together with my business partner Thomas van Daal).

On to a fresh learning journey: looking for ways to build business without making a mess of our planet. So far I have found no silver bullet that solves it all.. But I did find out it is not that difficult to start today with making a positive difference.

Thanks to many professionals that I met (or who’s work I read) along the way, who started their own search way before me, I went through a steep learning curve. While learning, my amazement grew on how I had not ‘seen’ before myself, what I see now on how silly we have designed the use of products and services in today’s world. The scale of consequence of this is best summarized in the infographic from page 23 in 2022 circularity gap report by Circle economy. This graphic shows the huge number of tons of materials that we globally extract from our planet every year (100.6 Gt) and the stunningly marginal 8.6% that we manage to keep in the loop. (in 2023 this percentage declined to 7.2% so the trend is even negative).

Fig 1: How our global resource footprint meets our key societal needs—and that the global economy is only 8 .6% circular (by: Circle economy . )

What this image shows us is that we, governments, businesses, people, but especially we as designers simply forget or neglect, to design the end of life of everything we use.

So far we consider it normal that we harvest materials, use them and discard them as ‘waste’ (Late 90’s we still learned at @Delft University of Technology that the last phase of a product we designed was called ‘vanish’ ….Whàt?) Given the fact that ultimately materials on earth are scarce and we are supposed to be the smartest beast around, this is kind of stupid isn’t it?

Imagine the Circularity gap report image above being a financial balance sheet.

No balance. No business. No go.

This brings my thoughts to 2012 when I joined a two day course by Alexander Osterwalder and his team at Strategyzer in the early days of his, now famous, business model canvas.

Alexander did a great job: His simple but effective canvas is used to help generate business concepts in almost any business, service and/or product innovation project that I have seen since 2012. Large. Small. Corporate. Start-up.

Fig 2: Business model canvas (by: Strategyzer.

In the phase that this model is used, usually the design phase of products and services, it is estimated that approximately 80% of the ultimate environmental (and social) impact of a project is defined. So what I realise now:

The strategyzer business model canvas is great. But incomplete.

Time for an update.

An update as simple as the original model, so that it can and will be used by innovation teams all over the world. Here it is.

The sustainable business model canvas.

We wanted to sketch it and maybe even add a © to it. But simple ideas are never born on one place. Today we found the website of the Case knowledge platform where the model we had in mind was already published in 2018. Great. Let’s use it!

The concept is simple: Just add the ecological and social costs and benefits of your plan to your model as you do with costs and revenues. See the green marked area below.

Fig 3: sustainable business model canvas (by: Case | competencies for a sustainable social-economic development.

Imagine We would monitor our businesses and organisations from now on according to this sustainable business model canvas as we do with the original model:

No balance. No business. No Go.

Would your company still be viable?

The image from the circularity gap report above gives us the answer: With a balance sheet loss of 92% (ecological value alone) globally on yearly basis: Probably not.

It is clear that reversing the worlds businesses from heavily bleeding into Eco-Socially ‘profitable’ (or better: `regenerative`) surely is far from an easy task ahead. Starting today to head in this direction though is not that difficult.

Simply add your eco-social costs & benefits in your businessplans and start seeing what you never looked at before. Once you do that you can never unsee it, plus: you will be amazed by the wide range of sustainable business opportunities you never saw before.

So to all innovators using the Osterwalder Business model canvas today: Add two simple blocks to it and start your journey towards sustainable business

A long and rewarding road ahead with a lot to gain.

Enjoy the ride :-) With credits and thanks to Alexander Osterwalder for doing your important ground work making the base of this model. Plus credits and thanks to the teams of Case Knowledge platform for completing it.

Bas Roelofs Sustar | Practical Navigators to sustainable business

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