Give Your Business More than a Sustainable Twist

Two exercises to embed purpose in your existing business model
Give Your Business More than a Sustainable Twist
Publ. date 8 Feb 2019
Many firms fail to successfully implement their sustainability strategies, not because they lack the desire, the willingness or even the belief in the impact of sustainability on their businesses, but because they fail to identify proper objectives for their efforts. Setting a clear and meaningful purpose can help an organization to coalesce various efforts and goodwill and gives a shared sense of direction. Practice the creation of a purpose-based business with The Cover Story tool and the Bob’s Burgers Workshop.


By challenging yourself and your team to develop a burger business with a purpose to maximize its impact on society, new insights on your own business can be gained. Additionally, using a visioning tool can help you articulate your company's purpose. Complete the two exercises below to find an answer to the question: what are the strategic differentiators, what is value for society and in which areas might there be room for sustainable innovation to create a more circular business model?


Bob’s Burgers Workshop instructions

Time required: 3 to 3½ hours

Step 1: The McDonald’s Business Canvas
The workshop starts off by discussing an abridged version of the McDonald’s business model visualized through the popular Business Model Canvas, as developed by Swiss business model guru Alexander Osterwalder and management information systems professor Yves Pigneur. With the company’s impressive footprint globally, most if not all workshop participants will have abundant knowledge of the McDonald’s experience, thereby guaranteeing lively exchanges.

The Business Model Canvas of McDonald’s can be described as follows:  

  • McDonald’s is famous for its value proposition:  food of a constant quality that is served quickly and consistently across the globe.
  • The main customer segments are families, youngsters, the elderly and business people.
  • McDonald’s main strategic partners are its franchise holders. At year-end 2013, more than 80% of McDonald’s restaurants were franchised. Together with its suppliers, the company's model is based on a three-legged stool: suppliers, franchisees and McDonald’s. Each leg must thrive for the business to be profitable.
  • The key activities McDonald’s engages in is the marketing and selling food and beverages.
  • Key resources are the company’s employees and its restaurants on a-locations.
  • The customer relationship takes place online on the device preferred by the customer.
  • McDonald’s distributes its products through the restaurants.
  • The cost structure consists of employee salaries, facility construction costs, raw materials procurement and marketing costs.
  • McDonald’s revenues are generated at the restaurants owned by the company itself and those owned by its franchise holders.  

Step 2: Developing your own fast-food restaurant
After introducing the McDonald’s case in the plenary kick-off, participants are divided into teams of 4 to 6 individuals with an assignment to re-design the business. More specifically, they are asked to come up with an inspiring fast-food store concept in a city nearby, that maximizes its impact on society while running beyond break-even. The (non-exhaustive) list of ideas introduced by participants can become quite broad ranging from renewable energy, healthy menus and sustainable beef to a hangout for local youth or a training institute for restaurant employees.

Step 3: Presentation and discussion
The teams present their ideas to each other, and explain specifically:

  • What is the positive societal impact that their restaurants are achieving, and how?
  • What is the ‘special sauce’ in the restaurant’s business model, and in which part of the Business Model Canvas are they located?

Finally, back as one group, discuss the most significant and remarkable ideas that emerged in the team presentations, and how these concepts or ideas could be applied to your current business.

Cover Story exercise instructions

Time required: 1 to 1½ hours

The Cover Story is a visioning tool designed to help firms generate a company purpose. In essence, the Cover Story approach entails the development of a future cover page. This is usually conducted in a workshop format with a maximum of 20 participants with as many diverse backgrounds and roles as possible. To apply the tool, make sure to start by dividing the workshop participants into groups of three to four individuals.

Step 1: Designing the 2024 cover
Ask the groups to write an article for the cover of Forbes Magazine five years from now, featuring the company, its purpose statement and its outstanding achievements in society, starting with the headline of the article. The obligatory components of the front page, next to the central headline, are a suitable picture and a (short) story of what contributed to the company’s success. Most importantly, the story needs to contain the description of the secret ingredient that made the company’s sustainability program into a gigantic success.

Step 2: Presentation & developing a single headline
Ask some of the groups to quickly present their solutions and start working on a plenary version of the headline.

Step 3: From planning to action: 100-day action plan
After completion of the plenary version, challenge the audience to turn this attractive foresight into reality by generating a 100-day action plan.

Want to define your purpose for greater focus?  

The Bob’s Burgers Workshop, the Cover Story tool, and many other tools can be found in Winning Sustainability Strategies (Palgrave 2019, Leleux and Van der Kaaij) which presents numerous award-winning cases from IMD business school and examples from companies such as Unilever, Torres, Patagonia, Tumi, DSM and Umicore alongside original ideas based upon 20 years of consulting experience. 

About Jan van der Kaaij

Sustainability expert in strategy development, DJSI and sustainable innovation, with a hands-on approach and always committed to go for the max. | 

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