Designing More Sustainable Business Models

Interview with Prof. Jan Jonker on sustainable business models
Designing More Sustainable Business Models
Publ. date 11 Jun 2013
More and more often, companies ask us how they can make their business model more sustainable. Within this perspective, it is obviously good to know which standards a sustainable business model must live up to. One of the possibilities is to look at the new examples which are available, and to see what the effect of sustainable business models may be. Jan Jonker, professor Corporate Responsibility at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, gave his perspective on these questions in the light of his research on new sustainable business models.

On June 28th, the results of the second study on new sustainable business models were presented during a symposium at the Radboud University Nijmegen. The symposium showed a generation of business models is being developed that work with more than just money: they also pay attention to energy, time, or waste.

1.       You investigated new business models. What was your motive for this research?

“If you want to be successful as a company, you have to think about the way you create value, the shape that value has, and the way in which you exchange that value. It could very well be that those things will change rigorously in the coming years. Will you sit back and wait passively for those changes to emerge, or will you convert these risks into business opportunities? My motive is to advance the debate on sustainability by conducting research on the intersection between theory and practice. Sustainable business models are situated right in the center of that intersection."

2.       What is your vision on new sustainable business models?

 “In sustainable business models, it is about more than social or economic impact. At the bottom line, you either add value to society, or you withdraw value from society. A sustainable business model helps to simultaniously realize that social and environmental value. Michael Porter calls it Shared Value Creation.”

3.       In 2012, the first study on new business models showed seven characteristics. Which are they?
  1. Creating multiple value.
  2. Cooperative collaboration. I.e: enterpreneurship will become the art of the new collaboration.
  3. Money is not the only means of exchange. Time, energy, or care could also be deployed as exchangable assets.
  4. The economy is focused on needs and utilization.
  5. Owning production means is no longer essential. It might be a lot more important to have access to them.
  6. Express long-term commitment.
  7. Contribute to a circular and sharing economy.
4.       You just mentioned the term 'shared value'. What is shared value? Could you explain how shared value is related to sustainable business models? 

“If business models should lead to multiple value creation, we should also start looking at how we share that value. That is what it means: organizing the mutual use of that value."

5.       Could you describe some examples of initatives built on a truly sustainable business model?  

“Gradually there is a is a whole range of examples to mention, such as Ecover, Interface, Peerby, Floow2, Women on Wings, Networks or WijHelpen. Take Interface, for example. A ‘classical’ carpet production company that has spent the last two decades on making every aspect of its business more sustainable. At first, it concerns the supply of raw materials, through the production, ultrasonic cutting, and packaging. They work amongst others with internal and external recycled materials. Carpets can also be 'leased'. A company that aims at zero-waste in a carpet's lifecycle: one of the finest industrial examples we have both internationally and nationally, in Scherpenzeel."

6.       What could the long-term effects of new business models be?  

“A desired effect is that the new generation of business models focuses less and less on linear production, but develops towards cyclic production. The result should be that the business model creates value by (re-)using material 'infinitely'. The vision thus lies in the most literal sense of the notion 'sustainable': being able to go on endlessly."


7.       On June 28, the new results of the follow-up study on new sustainable business models will be presented. What does the new study add? 

“The first study dating from 2012 was mainly explorative by nature. It covered a total of 28 cases. For the second study, 170 cases of new business models have reported themselves. In this study, we look more closely at how can be worked towards a completely new 'business model canvas'. How do you build a model that also realizes and shares that multple value."



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