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Five Steps to Building Your Business Case for Sustainability

February 27, 2018

Happy International Business Case Week!  (I made that up...)  As you will recall, I promised last week that I would detail a process for building a business case for sustainability. If you missed last week's post you can catch up quick here:  What do we mean by a "business case" for sustainability?


Know someone interested in making a great business case?

Invite them to sign up.

At Smeal College of Business, as a business school, we see the business case as our main contribution to sustainability. In fact, since 2012, we have had a goal that "every student would graduate able to make the business case for sustainability."  We are now building learning, behavior and outcome metrics around that aspirational goal (more on that here).


Three important points to review:

  • the business case definition offered in the last post was "presenting of evidence accurately representing a set of circumstances developed for a particular audience through an investigative process in support of a profit-making commercial enterprise"

  • The goal of a business case should be to enable your company and leadership to make an informed investment decision

  • A "business case" is less like a hammer and more like a Swiss army knife. There is no single nail to hit with your business case hammer. It's a Swiss army knife (or like my favorite Leatherman tool) and you have to know what parts to use in what circumstance and with what audience

And we reviewed 7 elements of a business plan from strategy alignment to return on investment.

So how do you create a business case?  And what about a business case for sustainability? 

There can be some misunderstanding about the "business case."  Many people think it's just an ROI/IRR calculation or just about short term profits. Although financial returns and profit margin are cornerstones, there are many other components for the full construction of the case. I will show you how to prepare a business case in the five steps offered by Harvard Business Review Guide to Building Your Business Case by Raymond Sheen:

  1. Prepare

  2. Know your audience

  3. Construct the Case

  4. Crunch the Numbers

  5. Pitching the Case


Let's start today with a short review of Step 1:  Prepare.