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Step 1: Preparing Your Case on a Sustainability Platform

March 1, 2018

We are learning how to build a business case for sustainability in five (not easy at all) steps:

  1. Prepare

  2. Know your audience

  3. Construct the Case

  4. Crunch the Numbers

  5. Pitching the Case

If you missed the first two posts, go here to catch up. We started yesterday with a short review of Step 1:  Prepare. We said that a business case simply (though it's not simple) is telling a compelling story about meeting a business need.  And to do this effectively, you need to find out how and when decisions about proposals and business cases are really made.


But we aren't just creating a business case for an investment, a new product or project.  We are creating a business case for sustainability.  As we will see, like running a piece of software on an upgraded operating system, the business case on a Sustainability Platform is even more powerful and insightful. 

Step 1:  Preparing...on the Sustainability Platform

How do we "prepare" to develop a business case while considering environmental and social risks and opportunities?  If a business case is a compelling story of meeting a business need...what about what society needs?


Before we answer those questions, a quick word on platforms. Considering sustainability as a "platform" is a new way of thinking about social and environmental innovation.  It becomes a catalyst for fresh thinking.

Techopedia defines platform as "a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed." A platform used to refer mainly to a computer's operating system. For example, you could say "Hey, my PC is running Windows XP" or, to sound cool, "My PC is running a Windows platform." Platform has recently exploded in the English language, as Silicon Valley start-up lingo seeps into the everyday and it has even become its own business model. The "platform model" is the business design for Facebook, LinkedIn, and iTunes and thousands of others.


Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, points to platforms as key springboards of creativity throughout history. Analogues can even be seen in nature. For example, he points to coral reefs as platforms as they give rise to increasingly complex and varied forms of life. In technology, Global Positioning System (GPS) is a platform that birthed a thousand applications and perhaps the ultimate platform is the mobile phone.


In sum, a platform is a base and springboard for innovation. And here's the point, thinking of sustainability as a platform for innovation unlocks opportunities that hide from those still suffering from the cost and compliance model.

Preparing to construct a business case on a sustainability platform invites us to reconsider:

  • Business needs (and the needs of society)

  • Business cases process (and the inclusion of social and environmental risk)

  • Stakeholder engagement (widening the circle)

Business needs and the needs of society

Traditional business case development ignores externalities of