The Purpose of Business. Where Value meets Strategic Sustainable Development


Master's Thesis, 2018
94 Pages, Grade: 1,6

Excerpt

Table of Contents

Statement of Contribution

Acknowledgements

Executive Summary

Glossary

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

1 Introduction
1.1 The Sustainability Challenge
1.2 The Economic Paradigm of Business-as-Usual
1.3 The Impact of Business
1.4 Considering Business, Value and Sustainability
1.5 Case Study: Potable Water Industry
1.6 Aim
1.7 Scope

2 Research Design and Methodology
2.1 Methodological Approach
2.2 Phase 1: Literature analysis
2.3 Phase 2: Primary Data Collection
2.4 Answer to the Research Question
2.5 Limitations of the research design
2.6 Ethics

3 Results
3.1 Literature Results
3.2 Data Analysis Results
3.3 Summary of Results

4 Discussion
4.1 Theme 1: Lack of Common Language
4.2 Theme 2: Systems Perspective
4.3 Theme 3: System Value
4.4 Theme 4: The Core of Business
4.5 Theme 5: Mindset and Decision-making
4.6 Theme 6: Leadership and Collaboration
4.7 Framing in Existing Field of Literature
4.8 Prototyping Recommendations for Practitioners
4.9 Reliability and Validity

5 Conclusion

6 References

Appendices

List of Figures and Tables

Figure 1.1. The natural cycle of our socio-ecological systems (Robèrt et al. 2015)

Figure 1.2. Metaphor of the declining funnel walls that put a sustainable society at risk (Broman and Robèrt 2017)

Figure 1.3. Triple Bottom Line visualization (adapted from Elkington (1997))

Figure 1.4. Nested system visualization of business within society and environment (adapted from Future-Fit Foundation 2017)

Figure 1.5. Value elements in a BMfS adapted from Bocken, Rana and Short (2015)

Figure 2.1. Visualization of research design

Figure 2.2. Sampling process of businesses in the case industry

Figure 3.1. Evolution of value forms towards system value (Future-Fit Foundation 2017)

Figure 3.2. Interrelations between concepts

Figure 3.3. Images shown to Interview-, and Questionnaire-respondents (without captions) to test systems understanding

Figure 3.4. Results from interview and questionnaire on systems understanding

Figure 3.5. Pie diagram of vision focus of case study participants

Figure 3.6. Pie diagram showing value propositions design focus

Table 1.1. Overview of definitions for Business Models for Sustainability (BMfS)

Table 2.1. Overview of interviews conducted in each expert group

Table 2.2. Number of codes applied in open and axial coding rounds

Table 3.1. Value forms comparison based on literature and summarized through FSSD lens

Abstract:

The current global economic paradigm, centred on growth, is a significant barrier in the transition towards a sustainable society. Business-as-Usual companies operating within this paradigm are perceived to prosper at the expense of society and environment which is not viable on a finite planet. The need to rethink the purpose of business is inevitable as maximising shareholder value, has been deemed insufficient to create a sustainable society.

This study aimed to explore: how business models can be used to create value that supports Strategic Sustainable Development. Previous research proposed that the concept of Business Models for Sustainability helps business place sustainability at the core of all consideration. A qualitative research was chosen for which we employed the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and combined a literature review with an investigation of three expert groups to answer our research question.

Our findings showed that, compared to other value forms, system value is the most appropriate concept for businesses striving towards sustainable development. Based on our findings, six themes emerged that businesses need to address to accelerate the speed of change towards sustainability. To make a relevant contribution to the intended audience, a prototype has been developed based on our findings.

Keywords: Strategic Sustainability; Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development; Business Model for Sustainability; System Value; Shared Value; Sustainability

Statement Rf CRntrLbutLRn

Our thesis journey began with the realization that the rest of the MSLS year would be spent together in our group of four enjoying the joyful ride of thesis whilst working with one another. Our learning in this thesis process has been rapid and iterative, as it gave us the opportunity to dive into collaborative thesis writing, which none of us had ever been a part of before. Our journey of the thesis was purposely set around learning and contributing to the purpose of business and Strategic Sustainable Development. With this team came diversity and various human dynamics that played out. All members brought forward their strengths and weaknesses which were discussed in the beginning and constantly throughout our time together through biweekly feedback dinners. This helped to create an optimal working environment and closer working relationships.

Each member contributed to the thesis content and process to the best of our ability and worked together throughout the project to co-create the outcome through our shared decision making. We created professional and personal goals in the beginning and held each other accountable to them. There were bouts of enthusiasm towards a new form of value or piece of theory that we discovered that needed calming action, as the chosen topic and new findings at every turn were exciting to each of us at varying moments. In this instance, someone in the team was always able to reel us back to reality and ground us towards our end goal, taking turns to do so in the team. The team set a good standard of trust from the outset and we kept it at a high level throughout the thesis writing process which allowed the collaborative effort and friendships to present itself as it did. Collective naps, kickboxing trainings, dinners, handstand breaks, data-camps, early mornings, late nights, stories, laughter, hangovers, and days in the sun made it a truly enjoyable process.

Lennart, is the youngest team member but participates with enthusiasm and has the fastest mind. He discovered many of our guiding frameworks and inspired us with his enthusiasm towards new ideas with his voracious reading skills. He works reliable on his content and contributes by using his writing skills to create captivating flowing texts to link content and share his ideas in the research that developed our research topic further.

Meera is the care taker of the team. She is the one who often stopped the fast-paced process to recapture and rethink ideas and concepts when everybody was rushing ahead too far and too fast. Her ability to slow down the project to regroup became important to catch onto areas that needed more focus, like resolving the ever-evolving research question. By being a native English speaker, she also reread many of the drafts and made them more concise.

Memie (Kulvarong) was dubbed the Chief of Communication. Always on top of communication for meetings, interviews and other correspondence on behalf of the team, she enabled us to have one point of call for information share. With her brilliant life tips, she also enhanced our understanding of other parts of life while bringing a fun light-hearted air to the group. Memie brought with her the experience of a sustainability background in her working experience. This helped us to understand some concepts quicker and sense-make the areas that linked business and sustainability.

Sophia's skill lies in her ability to organizer and structure meetings, content and new concepts very clearly. Her inner German side led her to work efficiently and guide the team throughout the project keeping a good working flow going. Along with this skill she can grasp new concepts quickly and structures these concepts for the thesis content rapidly while being able to still see the overall structure that is needed. Her drive and motivation towards a good end product has been a guiding force to the rest of the team.

Acknowledgements

We have many things to be grateful for on this quest, special thanks go out to our always present advisor César. His comments, insights, and suggestions kept our process on track. Our meetings were filled with lots of laughter and fun conversations about our shared passion around business models and sustainability. Due to him we were able to navigate through changes and the complexity inherent to our topic. We also want to thank our secondary advisor Jesko, for asking the right questions when we needed them most and being so incredible precise and German in his feedback and coaching. For the MSLS experience, we would like to thank Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt and Prof. Göran Broman alongside all the other wonderful staff members that thought us so much in the last ten months.

We are extremely grateful for all the practitioners and experts who were willing to share their wisdom and experiences with us. Speaking to them highly contributed to our own learning and meaningfulness of this process. Therefore, we want to send out a glorious and shining THANK YOU to all our interview partners for sparking new ideas in our minds and revising our prototype. Seeing their work was a true inspiration for us to continue on this path.

Thank you to: Bob Willard, Lorenzo Massa, Florian Lüdeke-Freund, Brian Baldassare, Thomas Long, Carlos Montalvo, Richard Johnson (Volans), Luke Smitham (Impactt Limited), John Silkey, Geraldo Vallen (Join the Pipe), Alexandra Nash (Yuhme), Andreas Weiß (Emil), Kevin James (Flow), Matthias Müller (TNS)

We hope you will enjoy reading our research and that our paths will cross again. Other things we are grateful for are:

- The company, friendship and love for each other that developed since December j Our class mates, dear friends and family who we could always count on j The existence of food on our planet
- The Karlskrona experience spoiling us with beautiful nature and short biking distances
- All the meaningful learnings from embarking on this journey of sustainability and leadership.

We are eternally grateful.

ExecutLve Summary

Introduction

Businesses, as the economic engine of the society, are a contributing force to the degradation of the socio-ecological system (França 2017). To address the ongoing degradation of the social and environmental systems that society depends on, the Strategic Sustainable Development approach was proposed (Robèrt et al . 2002). Current business models indicate a separation in operations where profit is considered superior to society and the environment, which may be directly related to the core of business where value is created. In this thesis, we aim to research how business models can create value that supports Strategic Sustainable Development to contribute to societies transition towards sustainability.

The sustainability challenge is an overarching term used to describe the current mechanisms that drive the destruction of our ecological and social systems, resulting in scarcity of available resources (Broman et al. 2014). One of the threats in the socio-ecological system is the perceived correlation between economic growth and environmental degradation. Since the Industrial Revolution, business practices have evolved to increase their impact on these systems through rapid technological innovations and growing resource intensive consumer demands. Simultaneously, there is an inequality in the distribution of the gained benefits; e.g. the distribution of wealth, living standards and health care (Robèrt et al . 2015). To change these degrading existing patterns, a change of economic models seems to be needed. This includes the way business considers their business models and value (Schaltegger, LüdekeFreund, and Hansen 2016; Robèrt et al. 2015; Willard 2012).

According to Handy (2002), the purpose of business is traditionally focussed on maximizing profit, creating shareholder value and generating a return on investment. Debates in academic literature on the purpose of business as described by Friedman (1970) have increased in the last decade, although many academics have questioned the ability of capitalism to foster prosperity (Jackson 2011). The economic paradigm of Business-as-Usual (BaU) as defined by Daly (1996) is where business perform their operations as if there were an unlimited amount of resources on Earth and therefore contribute to the degradation of the socio-ecological system by not acknowledging their position within the system (Daly 1996) relating directly to the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968).

The impact of business operating in this manner has larger consequences shared by the many and are outside of the direct jurisdiction of the organisation¶s operations. Robèrt et al . (2015) argue that to effectively address the sustainability challenge, a systems approach is needed as the challenge itself is complex and can only be understood by adapting a systems perspective. In a systems perspective, the economy would be part of human society, which exists within the boundaries of the natural environment. With this rationale, business would be a means to transition towards a sustainable society. This systems understanding is key for a successful business to be competent in moving towards sustainable development. (Robèrt and Broman 2017).

To align business and sustainability, the value that a business model should create needs to be understood. The value form inherent to the BaU approach is called shareholder value. Businesses aim to create financial value for its shareholders even if it is at the expense of other stakeholders. An early understanding of the risks of BaU by Elkington occasioned a shift in business model thinking using the three dimensions of People, Planet and Profit into the understanding, of the “Triple Bottom Line” (1997 . Porter and Kramer (2011) took the notion of the Triple Bottom Line and added a strategic, economic perspective to it, which resulted in the concept of shared value. According to multiple researchers a systems perspective has been missing in considering value in business for decades (Abdelkafi and Täuscher 2016; Baumgartner 2014; Stubbs and Cocklin 2008). Shared value has a systems perspective; however, economic gains are still the main purpose of this concept. The understanding of the nested interdependencies is key to understanding how society¶s global economy operates (Future-Fit Foundation 2017). With this perspective, the Future-Fit Foundation (2017) proposed a new and yet to be explored concept of system value.

To make effective transformation, a change in the business model is needed (Bocken et al. 2013). Osterwalder and Pigneur define a business model as “the rationale of how an organization, creates, delivers and captures value” (2010, 14). However, current Business Model Innovation (BMI) generally fails to sufficiently embrace the sustainability dimension (Boons and Lüdeke-Freund 2013; Upward and Jones 2016). A business model that tries to move towards supporting sustainable future is called a Business Model for Sustainability (BMfS). For this research, a BMfS is defined as “[A BMfS describes] A company¶s sustainable value proposition to its customers and all other stakeholders, how it creates and delivers this value proposition, and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social and economic capital beyond its organizational boundaries.” (Schaltegger, Hansen and Lüdeke-Freund 2016, 6). Adapting new business models for sustainability creates competitive advantages in form of quantifiable benefits, mitigating risks and increasing profits, as Willard (2012) argues.

This definition touches upon value directly as the core of a business model. The value of a business is created through the value proposition, which we noted to be at the core of a business model. With this same understanding Patala et al . (2016, 1) proposed the notion of a sustainable value proposition as “a promise on the economic, environmental and social benefits that a firm¶s offering delivers to customers and society at large, considering both short-term profits and long-term sustainability” This definition places value at the core with a necessary emphasis on the short-term profits, or return on investment, as well as long-term sustainability.

A case study in the potable water industry was chosen to understand the complex relations between all the theoretical components that inform the aim of this research.

The aim of the research was to (1) identify value forms that support Strategic Sustainable Development and (2) to ask how business models could be used to create value at their core by taking a systems perspective. The findings from the research were formulated to be used across expert groups, being both academia, and practitioners, for use in business model design and for further research.

To better understand the value form required for the design of a Business Model for Sustainability, we tackled the following research question:

How can business models be used to create value that supports Strategic Sustainable Development?

The scope of the research focuses on businesses. Business models are investigated from the point of the value proposition while only peripheral touching upon other components like the impact of supply chain, customer interface and financial model. Value in the scope of this research is considered from a systems perspective, by looking at how value can contribute to the socio-ecological system across the entire value network. For the consideration of Strategic Sustainable Development within our scope we take on an organizational lens to target our research more towards the intended audience.

Research Design and Methodology

To answer the research question, a pragmatic qualitative approach was selected. The research approach uses both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. The figure provides an overview of the research design approach used. Using Method triangulation in the data collection supported validation of the findings, balancing the strengths and weaknesses of each approach (Abowitz and Toole 2010). The combination of the two phases allowed our team to link existing academic research with novel and practice-oriented findings from experts in the field with the specific use of a case study in the potable water industry to strengthen our findings from a real-world context.

Abbildung in dieser eseprobe nicht enthalten

In phase 1, we examined value forms and the concept of a BMfS through a literature review. In phase 2, the primary data collection phase, we carried out semi-structured interviews with three Expert Groups; a case industry (A), academia (B) and sustainability consultants (C) for qualitative data collection. Further using questionnaires within expert group A to collect quantitative data to enrich the findings and seek for more inputs. The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (Broman and Robèrt 2017) was used as a tool within our methods to: (2) format and guide the methods, (2) structure interviews and questionnaires (3) evaluate literature and (4) strategically analyse the data collected to formulate results.

The intention of the research design and methodology was to create a prototype of a guideline to be sent back to experts within the three expert groups to obtain further feedback on our findings and to generate an iterative loop of research sharing between academia and practitioners.

Results

The literature review (Phase 1) describes the results of the analyses completed on the two topics of value and business models in support of Strategic Sustainable Development.

The analysis of literature using the five-levels of the FSSD show that Shareholder value was never intended to address the sustainability challenge and lacked a systems perspective. In contrast, Shared Value has a systems perspective but uses sustainability as an end goal or bottom line resulting in trade-offs leading to the causation of negative externalities unknown to the businesses creating them. System value incorporates a systems perspective and seems to have function as a part of the nested system understanding by allowing negative trade-offs to be anticipated, avoided, and allowing the positive impacts to grow simultaneously. It is defined by the Future-Fit Foundation (2017) as: Business addresses societal needs in a holistic way, while not hindering progress toward a flourishing future. ´ It is a new and yet unexplored concept.

Through further literature analysis we found discussions that the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development and the Business Model Canvas can be used hand in hand. The Business Model Canvas adds business guidance on the FSSD, and the FSSD informs the sustainability challenge to the Business Model Canvas (França 2017). Those two factors inform a Business Model for Sustainability. The BMfS has the ability to reach for system value and thus supports Strategic Sustainable Development.

Through the interviews and questionnaires (Phase 2), it was apparent that the adaptation of Business Models for Sustainability is challenging in practice and comes with several obstacles, obstructing the possibility for businesses to realize their capability to create greater value. The results from both the literature phase and primary data collection with the Expert Groups (Phase 1 and Phase 2) were discussed and analysed by the team where a set of obstacles and six overarching themes were found that addressed conditions for the use of business models to create value for Strategic Sustainable Development. These were used for further discussion and for developing a guideline for practitioners

Discussion

The results from both the literature phase and primary data collection with the Expert Groups (Phase 1 and Phase 2) were discussed by the team and six overarching themes were found that addressed conditions for the use of business models to create value for Strategic Sustainable Development.

Theme 1: Lack of Common Language: To realize business potential, businesses need a unifying operational definition of sustainability. From a critical perspective, it can be argued that the main problem is the lack of agreement in academia regarding the operational definition of sustainability. This lack of agreement makes it hard to offer guidance to businesses who struggle to distinguish offsetting harm through Corporate Social Responsibility activities and green washing from real sustainability.

Theme 2: Systems Perspective: Our data analysis shows that the current perspective in our sample of expert groups is not that of the nested system. This understanding was defined as a prerequisite for creating Business Models for Sustainability.

Theme 3: System Value: The notion of system value moves beyond the concepts of Triple Bottom Line, Shared Value and Stakeholder Value. Those concepts were not good enough in shifting society to move society to a sustainable state, during our interview we found affirming statements.

Theme 4: The Core of Business: Business Models for Sustainability require value proposition design to be central to the model to be able to optimize the move towards sustainability. As Bocken et al. (2013) describe, the value proposition can be used as a leverage point to transform a business into a Business Model for Sustainability by using the proposition at the core of the business model that describes the business purpose. Theme 5: Mind set and Decision-making: Through our definition of a Business Model for Sustainability and the understandings from expert groups B and C (Academia and Consultants), it is apparent that sustainability needs to be understood as a journey and a continual process, and not an end goal. This change of mind set is required for supporting the actions of business towards sustainability.

Theme 6: Leadership and Collaboration: As identified by the literature analysis and amongst majority of the experts, this transition needs to be supported by leadership. When the purpose of business is no longer driven by economic gain but by system value it can be argued also leadership will need to adopt to a more collaborative and participatory form to shift the Business-as-Usual model towards a Business Model for Sustainability. Strategic Sustainable Development significantly informed this thesis. Our findings on internal and external obstacles, described in our themes, assist in answering increasing the transition towards sustainability by showing the connections between the economic system and the Strategic Sustainable Development approach (Broman and Robèrt 2017). Furthermore, the reconsideration of value is a mind-shift that does not ask for a different economic system, but for changing the norms by which the system is applied.

Conclusion

The present research explored the value that businesses can create through their business model in order to support Strategic Sustainable Development. This issue was tackled, first, by investigating the existing academic literature around Business Models for Sustainability and Value. In addition, interviews have been conducted with case experts, academic experts and consultancy experts.

To answer our research question, we first looked at value forms that support Strategic Sustainable Development. In our comparison we found that system value is supportive in the ability to address complex challenges by taking a systems perspective, affording business extra awareness regarding their effect on the system in which they operate. However, when aiming for system value, it is important to move at the right pace, as Robèrt and Broman (2017) emphasized.

The second step to arrive at the answer was to look how business models create value at their core. The sustainability challenge, in combination with the concept of business models informs the design of BMfS. The value of a BMfS can be created through the value proposition. The value proposition describes the offerings that a business has towards their stakeholders. The notion of a sustainable value proposition has been defined recently by Patala et al. (2016), it calls for short-term profits as well as long-term sustainability, which was not explicit in the notion of system value.

Informed by the two-previous step we arrive at: How Business Model for Sustainability can be used to create system value that supports Strategic Sustainable Development. To make this research relevant for the intended audience we captured guiding components needed as a prerequisite to use a BMfS for creating system value in a prototype (Appendix M).

This thesis has contributed to the quest for increased research around sustainable businesses by exploring new ways of considering value within business models. Aiming to shift business from being part of the problem to being part of the solution and guiding society towards a sustainable stage. For this, we advocate for systems understanding, rethinking the purpose of business and a strategic approach towards this challenging journey.

Glossary

Backcasting: As opposed to forecasting, backcasting is a strategic planning approach that begins with defining a vision of success in the future based on scenarios or basic principles (i.e., constraints that must be met to maintain a system). Planners then chart the best possible course of action leading in the right overall direction toward the vision of success (Dreborg 1996; Robèrt et al. 2015).

Bottled Water Industry: The companies that bring pre-bottled water to consumers.

Business-as-Usual (BaU): A Business-as-Usual approach perceives the economy as the overarching system everything else depends on (Daly 1996).

Business Model: Describes the rationale of how an organization, creates, delivers and capture value (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010)

Business Model for Sustainability (BMfS): A business model designed to support sustainability. (Schaltegger, Hansen, and Lüdeke-Freund 2016, 6): “[A BMfS describes] A company¶s sustainable value proposition to its customers and all other stakeholders, how it creates and delivers this value proposition, and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social and economic capital beyond its organizational boundaries.”

Complex system: A system that is constituted of a relatively large number of parts that intract in complex ways to produce behaviour that is sometimes counterintuitive and unpredictable

Exchange Value: is purely monetary and is realized when the buyer pays (Bowman and Ambrosini 2000)

Expert Group A: CEO and Management Level of the case study industry

Expert Group B: Academics in the field of sustainability and business models

Expert Group C: Consultants and sustainability practitioners that help businesses in the transition towards sustainability

Five Level Framework for Planning in Complex Systems: The Five Level Framework is a framework designed to help people tackle problems within complex systems. It is especially useful for analysis, decision-making, and strategic planning. As its name implies, the Five Level Framework helps structure information into the following five levels (Broman and Robèrt 2017):

1) System Level, which provides information about the complex system, such as stocks and flows;
2) Success Level, which provides a definition of success based on basic principles
3) Strategic Level, which includes strategic guidelines used to select actions
4) Actions Level, which lists the concrete actions used to move toward the overall goal
5) Tools Level, which names tools used to support planning toward the goal. Importantly, these five levels are not meant to represent a sequential strategic planning process; instead, users should consider the levels and connections between them simultaneously.

Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD): The FSSD is a scientifically sound conceptual framework for the transition towards a sustainable society (Broman and Robèrt 2017). It includes a unifying and operational definition of sustainability, as well as an approach for whole-systems change that could be applied in any context, at any scale.

Funnel/ Funnel Metaphor: A world view that recognizes that current unsustainability problems are due to systemic errors in societal design, connected to each other in complex ways, and are systematically weakening both the social and ecological fabric on which civilization depends. Used in this research as: visualization of the ongoing degrading systems and the safe space that society and business should aim to move towards (Robèrt and Broman 2017).

Holistic approach: See Nested System.

Nested System: Visualization of the interdependencies of business, society and the environment (Future-Fit Foundation 2017).

Potable Water: Water safe to drink.

Shareholder value: Economic value created for the shareholders of one company. Often associated with a Business-as-Usual approach.

Shared value: A way to achieve economic success through creating value for multiple stakeholders. “Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the centre” (Porter & Kramer, 2011, 64).

Socio-ecological system: The combined system that is made up of the biosphere, human society and their complex interactions.

Strategic Sustainable Development: An overarching approach that guides society to a sustainable state by applying the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (Broman and Robèrt 2017).

Sustainable Business Model (SBM): See Business Model for Sustainability.

Sustainable Value Proposition: A market offering that aligns with sustainability in the system outside an organizations boundaries (Patala et al. 2016).

Sustainability: A state in which the socio-ecological system is not systematically undermined by society. Society must be in full compliance with the eight Sustainability Principles to achieve full sustainability (Broman and Robèrt 2017).

Sustainability Challenge: Addressing the systematic errors of societal design that are driving humanities unsustainable effects on the socio-ecological system, the serious obstacles to fixing those errors, and the opportunities if those obstacles are overcome (Robèrt et al. 2015, 9).

Sustainable Development: The active transition from the current globally unsustainable society towards a sustainable society. Once the transition to a sustainable society is complete it refers also to further social development within that society.

Sustainability Principles (SPs): Determine what humans must not do to transition towards a sustainable path. These principles are built upon a scientifically rigorous, consensus-based, systems perspective and define the minimum conditions that must be met for a sustainable society; the principles are as follows (Broman et al. 2014; Missimer 2015, 44);

In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing…

1. …Concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth¶s crust; Complying with this principle requires replacing the use of certain minerals that are scare in nature with others that are more abundant, using all mined mineral efficiently and systematically reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

2. …Concentrations of substances produced by society; Complying with this principle requires substituting certain persistent and unnatural compounds with ones that are normally abundant or break down more easily in nature.

3. …Degradation by physical means; Complying with this principle requires drawing resources only from well-managed ecosystems, systematically pursuing the most productive and efficient use of both the resources and the land. And, people are not subject to structural obstacles to…

4. …Health; Complying with this principle requires adjusting any patterns and structures, which systematically have negative consequences for people¶s health.

5. …Influence; Complying with this principle requires adjusting any patterns and structures, which systematically undermine people¶s influence on the systems of which they are a part.

6. …Competence; Complying with this principle requires adjusting any patterns and structures, which systematically undermine competence, be it a lack of opportunity to develop competence or systematic hindrance.

7. …Impartiality; Complying with this principle requires adjusting any patterns and structures, which systematically undermine impartial treatment

8. …Meaning-making. Complying with this principle requires adjusting any patterns and structures, which systematically undermine meaning-making for people and organizations. System: A set of interconnected parts whose behaviour depends on the interaction between those parts. System Value: “Business addresses societal needs in a holistic way, while not hindering progress toward a flourishing future” (Future-Fit Foundation 2017)

System Thinking/Perspective: The organized study of systems, their feedbacks, and their behaviour as a whole. Involves recognising the interconnections among the various parts of a system and then synthesising them into a cohesive view of the whole (Robèrt et al. 2015).

Tragedy of the commons: focuses on the idea that commonly owned resources (the commons) tend to be overused because management responsibility is shared and cannot be traced to any one individual (introduced by Garret Hardin (1968))

Triple Bottom Line (TBL): concept which seeks to broaden the focus on the financial bottom line by businesses to include social and environmental responsibilities (People, Planet, Profit) developed by John Elkington (1997).

Reusable Water Bottle Industry: Companies that deliver water bottles that can be refilled (e.g. with tap water).

Use Value: Use value is subjective and defined by the perception of usefulness in relation to needs that are satisfied. Use value can be considered from a social or environmental point of view. (Bowman and Ambrosini 2000).

Value: expected output and outcome or subjective notions of the desirable; see exchange value and use value

Value Proposition (Market Offering): Value stream, service offer & value proposition, competitors offering, industry factors, customer value proposition, nature of outputs, value architecture, value proposition (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010).

1 Introduction

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."(Boulding 1973, 248)

A growing global population, coupled with changing consumption patterns, creates significant challenges to health, wellbeing and the natural environment. Business activities are a root cause of many environmental and social problems and thus a major source of sustainability concerns (Schaltegger, Hansen, and Lüdeke-Freund 2016). There are multiple perspectives on what the purpose of business is. However, all perspectives agree that businesses should create value. To be able to design a business model that supports strategic sustainable development, it is necessary to know what sustainability is and how to develop sustainability-promoting value. In this thesis, we aim to investigate how business models can be used to create value that supports Strategic Sustainable Development. Robèrt et al . (2015) argue that to effectively address the sustainability challenge, a systems approach is needed as the challenge itself is complex and can only be understood by adapting a systems perspective. In this systems perspective, the economy would be a part of human society, which exists within the boundaries of the natural environment. With this rationale, business would be a means to transition towards a sustainable society A business model that tries to move towards supporting sustainable development is called a Business Model for Sustainability (BMfS).

The following chapter will frame the research in the existing literature, present the foundations required to understand the sustainability challenge and the impact of business within, as well as define business models for sustainability (BMfS) and different value forms.

1.1 The Sustainability Challenge

There is an ongoing systematic degradation of ecological and social systems (Broman and Robèrt 2017). As awareness for the degradation is expanding, businesses are increasingly called on to contribute to sustainable development (Abdelkafi and Täuscher 2016; Baumgartner 2014). The sustainability challenge is an overarching term used to describe the current mechanisms that drive the destruction of our ecological and social systems. Robèrt et al . (2015) argue that the growing impact of climate change, shrinking biodiversity, poverty and erosion of trust can be traced back to a few overriding mechanisms of destruction of our ecological and social systems. To understand the interconnectedness of the challenges, a holistic systems perspective is needed (Broman and Robert 2017; Abdelkafi and Täuscher 2016; Baumgartner 2014). This systems perspective is needed as Earth itself is a system, as shown in et al. 2015). The Earth is a closed system, being closed to matter but open to energy. Solar energy comes in, and energy is radiated back into space. Between the biosphere (where society exists) and the lithosphere (the Earth¶s crust) is a slow exchange of matter, as visualized at the bottom of Figure 1.1. Through this exchange there is a systematic degradation occurring that is based on the enhanced human interaction between the biosphere and lithosphere (e.g., oil extractions).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1.1 (Robèrt ecological systems (Rob è rt et al. 2015)

Since the Industrial Revolution, business practises have evolved to increase the growth of societies through rapid technological innovations resulting in greater consumer demands. This created many benefits, but also had substantial negative impacts on the biosphere. These impacts are still increasing today, as seen by the emergence of unplanned negative impacts such as global warming and ecotoxicity. Simultaneously, there is an inequality in the distribution of the gained benefits; e.g. the distribution of wealth, living standards and health care. This implies that human society is threatening the eco-systems it depends on, while the social system, at a global scale, is troubled. (Robèrt et al . 2015)

The Strategic Sustainable Development (Robèrt et al. 2002) approach describes sustainability as a journey and aims to address the sustainability challenge. Broman and Robèrt (2017) believe that to achieve change at a pace and scale that leads to sustainability, it is necessary to establish a thorough understanding of the characteristics and urgency of the sustainability challenge. To be clear about what is meant when we referrer to sustainability in this research, a unifying and principle-based definition of sustainability was chosen. The sustainability understanding in this research is based on the eight Sustainability Principles (SPs). They define success as stopping the unsustainable behaviour, by identifying upstream mechanisms that destroy the socio-ecological system. The SPs function as a framework to provide the limits within which ecological sustainability and a sustainable society can be achieved. (Broman et al. 2014; Missimer 2015) In essence, the SPs act as restrictions determining what humans must not do to transition to a sustainable path (Robèrt et al. 1997). The ‘not¶ is included to direct focus to the basic errors of societal design (Ny et al. 2006), as a result eight systems conditions that a sustainable society must meet are as follows:

This sustainable society within the eight SPs is the goal of the Strategic Sustainable Development approach (Robèrt et al. 2002). By understanding the sustainability challenge through this lens, Broman and Robert (2017) see a competitive advantage for businesses that incorporate sustainability. In our context, sustainability for businesses means creating value without violating any SPs through their operations, with an ideal goal of reducing their current violations of these SPs approach (Broman and Robèrt 2017).

One of the threats in the socio-ecological system is the perceived correlation between economic growth and environmental degradation. This is partly addressed in the Sustainable Development Goal 12 of the United Nations, namely, Sustainable Production and Consumption (United Nations Environment Programme 2015). Although all member United Nations member states acknowledge this, figures show increasing production consumption per unit of economic growth. To change these degrading existing patterns, a change of economic models seems to be needed. This includes the way business considers their business models and value (Schaltegger, Hansen, and Lüdeke-Freund 2016; Robèrt et al. 2015; Willard 2012). Business are in that sense a part of the problem, and have the potential to be part of the solution. Schaltegger and Wagner (2011, 224) argue that Businesses can “contribute to solving societal and environmental problems through the realization of a successful business.”

1.2 The Economic Paradigm of Business-as-Usual

One of the first large-scale research reports to conclude that global economic growth could not take place was The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972). The report questioned the validity of the economic growth paradigm according to which the creation of economic value is the primary purpose of a business. According to Handy (2002), the purpose of business is traditionally focussed on maximizing profit, creating shareholder value and generating a return on investment. A quote from the Nobel-Prize winning economist Milton Friedman (1970, 178) illustrates this understanding of the purpose of business in this paradigm the most appropriately “there is one and only one social responsibility of business-to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Next to Friedman¶s perspective, there are multiple viewpoints on the purpose of business, especially in relation to sustainability. Each viewpoint agrees that the main purpose of business is to create value. Value can be split up in two considerations; use value and exchange value. Use value is subjective and defined by the perception of usefulness in relation to needs that are satisfied. Exchange value is purely monetary and is realized when the buyer pays (Bowman and Ambrosini 2000). Use value can be considered from a social or environmental point of view.

Businesses engaged in the approach where growth is based on their financial value increasing are referred to by Daly (1996) as ‘Business-as-Usual¶ (BaU). In this approach, natural and societal resources are taken into the economic system, where they are turned into products or services to be sold. At the end of the product life, waste is disposed back into the environment, at little or no cost to the disposer (Daly, Cobb, and Cobb 1994). BaU organisations promote this approach and carry out business as if an unlimited amount of resources on were available on Earth (Meadows et al. 1972).

BaU operates as if it holds no relationship to environment and society. The negative impacts of this business model have larger consequences shared by the many and are outside of the direct jurisdiction of the organisation¶s operations. Daly, Cobb and Cobb (1994 state that whatever issues are occurring outside of the operations are dismissed as externalities, following the idea that the economic benefits are larger than the negative consequences. The economic benefits of this are shared by the business and shareholders. BaU measures success based on the created Shareholder Value (Rappaport 1998).

1.3 The Impact of Business

Unsustainable economic development infers that there are negative impacts and a weakening in sustaining civilization due to the decline of the potential in social and ecological systems. Through erosion and pollution, society is damaging and losing the purifying, stabilizing and productive capacities of the earth's quantity of fauna and flora as well as mineral wealth (Steffen 2005), this is being exploited to an extent where the degradation is accelerating. The failure of taking responsibility for the degradation of commonly owned resources was introduced by Garret Hardin (1968) in his report the tragedy of the commons. He argues that the unsustainable overuse of resources takes places due to the inability of players in society, including business, taking responsibility for their role in the larger socio-ecological system.

According to Holmberg and Robèrt (2000), a funnel is used as a metaphor to best illustrate these associated dynamics of the Earth system and the sustainability challenge. The funnel can be used as a way to reason on a macro level to eventually draw conclusions for the micro level of individual business. In this instance, looking at the BaU model within the funnel would provide further insight into its impacts on the socio-ecological system. To understand the funnel metaphor even more, it must be understood that it is only a graphic metaphor for the big-picture dynamics of global unsustainability. In reality, the funnel wall is not as smooth or linear as it appears in the diagram (Robèrt and Broman 2017).

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Figure 1.2. Metaphor of the declining funnel walls that put a sustainable society at risk (Broman and Rob è rt 2017)

The funnel metaphor (Figure 1.2) visualizes the declining capacity of the socio-ecological system to support human civilization (Broman and Robèrt 2017). The opening of the funnel on the left indicates the declining capacity of the socio-ecological systems to support human civilization. The funnel walls are narrowing due to the current negative impacts on the social and environmental systems on a large scale. If those impacts are reduced or removed, the declining of the funnel walls would cease, as visualised by the centre cylindrical section of the funnel. This is referred to as the ‘safe space of the funnel¶. From that space, there is potential to restore the socio-ecological systems (Robèrt and Broman 2017). This understanding is key for a successful business to be competent in “striking a balance between the pace of change towards the opening of the funnel¶s stem, on the one hand, and return on investment, on the other.”(Robèrt and Broman 2017, 12). Based on this understanding a successful business would then understand the funnel dynamics to create balance in its rate of change to enter into the funnel¶s stem, and the return on investment on the other hand (Robèrt and Broman 2017) to contribute towards sustainability.

As implied in the description of the funnel metaphor, the continuity of the current economic paradigm and BaU can only lead to destruction of socio-ecological systems that we rely on. Any business disregarding sustainability will most likely face risks and challenges, lose its competitive advantages and be left behind (Willard 2012). According to the Global Risk Report 2018 by World Economic Forum, the damage of our actions has been notoriously apparent, as noted: “environmental risks have grown in prominence over the 13-year history of the Global Risks Report” (World Economic Forum 2018, 11) This trend has continued this year, “with all five risks in the environmental category being ranked higher than average for both likelihood and impact over a 10-year horizon” (World Economic Forum 2018, 6).

On the one hand, businesses can mitigate risks by operating within the safe space of the funnel, but on the other hand there are also opportunities for business to capture (Robèrt et al. 2015; Willard 2012). Adapting new business models for sustainability creates competitive advantages in form of quantifiable benefits, as Willard (2012) argues. An investigation by Lacy, Haines, and Hayward showed that some executive management groups have recognized the need for sustainability and realized the necessity to rethink their businesses for what it can result in to stay competitive in the future (2012). By incorporating sustainability in a systematic way, there are seven apparent benefits in which all business can be leveraged. Willard (2012) identifies these as: (1) an increased revenues and market shares, (2) reduced energy use, (3) reduced waste expense, (4) reduced materials expense, (5) increased employee productivity, (6) lower hiring and attrition expenses and (7) mitigating risks. A detailed description of these benefits can be seen in Appendix A.

The impact of business can harm or support the socio-ecological system. Integrating sustainability into the core of a business and reshaping the business models not only brings profit as a mean to exist, but also provides business benefits. Those benefits act as means to ensure the continuity of business and the systems it depends on by achieving sustainable outcomes that create value beyond business boundaries and benefit others in the system. To create a sustainable business, a holistic view of the value, which is at the core, is required (Bocken et al 2014).

1.4 Considering Business, Value and Sustainability

To discernibly argue for a business moving towards sustainability and capturing the benefits we need to understand the value that a business should create to contribute to Strategic Sustainable Development. In the Business-as-Usual approach, the main purpose of business was to increase its profits (Daly 1996; Friedman 1970). The value form inherent to this approach is called shareholder value. Businesses aim to create financial value for its shareholders even if it is at the expense of other stakeholders.

An early understanding of the risks of BaU by Elkington occasioned a shift in business model thinking using the three dimensions of environment, society and economy into the understanding, of the “Triple Bottom Line” (1997), as seen in the Figure 1.3. The concept sought to broaden the focus on the financial bottom line to include social and environmental responsibilities in their accounting. In this understanding, the purpose of business was to be sustainable on all triple bottom lines. This tried to make businesses more aware of the responsibilities they had towards society and environment.

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Figure 1.3. Triple Bottom Line visualization (adapted from Elkington (1997))

The underlying claim was that value could be created for all three components together. This led to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, where companies would create value to the People or Planet components of the TBL (Henriques 2004). But as Corporate Social Responsibility and other sustainability initiatives by businesses were often detached from their core strategies, they mostly served marketing and brand reputation purposes and had limited societal impact (Crilly, Zollo, and Hansen 2012; Fiss and Zajac 2006). This enabled companies to ‘offset¶ the harm they were doing through their core operations with doing good elsewhere (Future-Fit Foundation 2017; Willard 2012).

Porter and Kramer (2011) took the notion of CSR and added a strategic perspective to it, which resulted in the concept of shared value: “Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the centre” (Porter and Kramer 2011, 64). The purpose of business in this notion shifts back to creating economic value, but it could be achieved by creating value for the environment or society. Crane et al., critique that shared value entrenches a “reductionist view of the purpose of business” (2014, 143). In their opinion, sustainable development can be a means to an end in the concept of shared value, and it does not redefine the purpose of business in society.

In chapter 1.1, the need for a systems perspective to support Strategic Sustainable Development was mentioned. According to multiple researchers this has been missing in the purpose of business for decades (Robèrt et al. 2015; Abdelkafi and Täuscher 2016; Baumgartner 2014; Stubbs and Cocklin 2008; Kurucz et al. 2017). According to Willard (2012) and Robèrt et al. (2015), we need to understand the three pillars of sustainability; these are: the economy, human society and the environment within the SPs. These are relatable to the Profit, People and Planet dimensions of the TBL. As individuals we depend on all three of them, as they are nested within each other.

A holistic overview of the integration and interdependence of the whole system where economy is a product of society that in turn is nested within Earth¶s environment, is displayed in a simplified image in Figure 1.4. Thus, there can be no thriving economy without society, and no society without the essential environmental systems. Those nested interdependencies are key to understanding how society¶s global economy operates (Future-Fit Foundation 2017). In a holistic approach, a thriving society is within the boundaries of a healthy natural planet as the goal, and the economy has become a means to that end (Robèrt et al. 2015). Decision makers in businesses often face potential trade-offs along the bottom lines. This systems- based approach helps them to identify issues that might otherwise be sidestepped. Negative trade-offs can be anticipated, avoided or at least addressed. With this perspective the FutureFit Foundation (2017) proposed a new and yet to be explored concept of system value.

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Figure 1.4. Nested system visualization of business within society and environment (adapted from Future-Fit Foundation 2017)

While some of these approaches and value form seek to address sustainability, others don¶t. A successful business from the perspective of the eight Sustainability Principles is one that understands the dynamics of the funnel (Figure 1.2) and their impacts in the larger system (Robèrt and Broman 2017). Willard (2012) explains that any business disregarding sustainability will most likely face risks and challenges, lose their competitive advantages and be left behind. A business model can be seen as an element that can affect the change needed to address the sustainability challenge from a business standpoint. To support this Bocken et al. (2014) note that with careful business model redesign or business model innovation it would be possible for businesses to integrate sustainability into their business and for new start-ups to design and pursue sustainable business from the outset.

1.4.1 Innovating Business Models

Following the introduction of the Triple Bottom Line, many different definitions of business models emerged (Timmers 1998; Wirtz 2000; Hamel 2000; Chesbrough and Rosenbloom 2002; Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010). A table of all definitions was presented in a paper written by França (2017) and can be found in Appendix B. Teece (2010) claims that the essence of a business model comes from defining how the enterprise delivers value to customers, entices customers to pay for the delivered value, and how companies convert this payment into profit. In Osterwalder and Pigneur¶s book on the generation of business models, they define a business model as: “the rationale of how an organi]ation, creates, delivers and captures value” (2010, 14).

It is apparent that in all these business model definitions, the purpose of business centres around economic success, re-enforcing the BaU model. It is in this enduring and unshifting mindset that we see the need for in-depth research into business models. This research has the opportunity to create prolonged change towards sustainability seen to surpass creating solely economic value and focusses on creating more holistic value for more than just the stakeholders. The business model is a good starting point for realizing value beyond economic gains to address the current economic system. Regarding this starting point, Stubbs and Cocklin (2008) claim that redesigning the business model can lead to an integration of sustainability into their business more readily, and for new businesses to design and grow sustainable business from the beginning. Such a redesign requires what is known as “business model innovation” (Schaltegger, Lüdeke-Freund, & Hansen, 2016).

Literature on Business Model Innovation (BMI) commonly tackles the issue of changing the value proposition for the customer. Osterwalder and Pigneur (2005, 2010) describe a business model consisting of the value proposition (product/service to the customer), value creation and delivery (activities, resources, partners, distribution channels) and value capture (cost structure, and revenue model). According to Bocken et al., in the light of the sustainability challenge, business models must seek to go beyond delivering economic value to include other forms of value for a broader range of stakeholders (2013).

However, Bocken et al. (2013) notes that BMI is more than just changing the product or service offering to the customer; it involves changing the way business is done, i.e. redesigning the business model, which must go beyond the products and service offering. BMI involves shifting the focus away from developing individual technologies towards creating new systems. BMI for sustainability aims to deliver more positive value to all stakeholders by understanding the tangible and intangible value streams between various stakeholders. This can be done by identifying relationships, exchanging interactions, and capturing opportunities for greater collaborative mutually beneficial value creation (Bocken et al. 2013).

1.4.2 Business Models for Sustainability

When combining the idea of business-model innovation with sustainability, the concept of a sustainable business model becomes relevant (SBM). The term SBM presupposes the possibility of a fully sustainable business model. However, it is nearly impossible to be fully sustainable in the current paradigms system because, the current system is complex and all the impacts of the shift to sustainability cannot be actioned, measured or evaluated immediately.

The term Business Model for Sustainability is preferred in this thesis, as it better defines sustainability as a journey as opposed to something that could already be achieved. To develop Business Models for Sustainability (BMfS), it is essential to consider the integration of social and environmental goals into a more holistic meaning of value in business models (Schaltegger and Wagner 2011; Lüdeke-Freund et al. 2016). Similarly, to the general terminology of Business Models, Business Models for Sustainability are also struggling to find a unifying definition. Many others have tried to define what a BMfS is. The various definitions for a BMfS are noted in Table 1.1 below:

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Table 1.1. Overview of definitions for Business Models for Sustainability (BMfS)

According to the commonalities of all definitions in Table 1.1, a Business Model for Sustainability is about creating significantly increased positive effects - and/or significantly reduced negative effects -for the natural environment and society through changes in the way a company and its network create, deliver, and capture value (Lüdeke-Freund et al. 2016). For this research the definition of a BMfS as described by Schaltegger, Hansen, and Lüdeke- Freund (2016, 6) is used:

“>A BMfS describes] A company¶s sustainable value proposition to its customers and all other stakeholders, how it creates and delivers this value proposition, and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social and economic capital beyond its organi]ational boundaries.”

This definition best describes a business model that looks beyond solely economic value and encapsulates value realization from various areas within the business model while supporting sustainability. Understanding business using this definition enables the business to identify the potential resources and capabilities that they can use to develop innovative solutions that turn environmental and social issues into market opportunities (Schaltegger, Hansen, and Lüdeke-Freund 2016; Lüdeke-Freund et al. 2016).

As Figure 1.5 shows, a BMfS consists of the same three elements as any generic business model: value proposition, value creation, and value capture (Schaltegger, Lüdeke-Freund, and Hansen 2016; Bocken, Rana, and Short 2015). The difference is in the way value is proposed to the customer, society and environment, as opposed to only shareholders and customers. A similar breakdown of the normative requirements of a BMfS was introduced by Boons and Lüdeke-Freund (2013). Also, in a BMfS value is created without harming the systems in which the businesses operate. The last difference can be in the way growth is considered, a company focussing only on economic growth, without caring for the harm that that growth can bring is a generic business, or a Business-as-Usual model. A BMfS will consider the negative implications that are associated with growth and make responsible decisions (Bocken et al. 2014).

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Figure 1.5. Value elements in a BMfS adapted from Bocken, Rana and Short (2015)

An optimal focus area for companies to transform their business model into a BMfS is the value proposition (Yang et al. 2017; Lüdeke-Freund et al. 2016; Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010; Bocken et al. 2013). The value proposition within a BMfS would ideally solves problems and satisfies the needs of customers whilst staying within the eight SPs. Bocken et al . (2013) point out that value propositions are at the core of business model innovation and having a sustainable value proposition at the core of a BMfS can benefit a business as it can be hard to imitate. Therefore, value proposition at the core can result in a high potential for sustainable competitive advantage for organisations (Bocken et al. 2013). Focusing thus on value proposition, Bocken et al. (2013) distinguish its three components: Value Destroyed, Value Missed and Opportunities for New Value Creation. Value Destroyed asks for a mapping of the negative social impacts, the harm done to the environment and the depletion of non-renewable resources. To be able to map the value that is destroyed, a systems perspective must be taken to identify the relations. When the destroyed value is mapped,

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Title
The Purpose of Business. Where Value meets Strategic Sustainable Development
College
Blekinge Institute of Technology  (Strategic Sustainability)
Grade
1,6
Author
Year
2018
Pages
94
Catalog Number
V430994
ISBN (eBook)
9783668771000
ISBN (Book)
9783668771017
File size
3640 KB
Language
English
Series
Aus der Reihe: e-fellows.net stipendiaten-wissen
Tags
Strategic Sustainability; Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development; Business Model for Sustainability; System Value; Shared Value; Sustainability
Quote paper
Sophia von Petersdorff (Author), 2018, The Purpose of Business. Where Value meets Strategic Sustainable Development, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/430994

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