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Step 3: Construct the Case

March 21, 2018

Finally, I get back to this....the business case for sustainability.  People talk about it all the time but few know what it really means.


We are learning how to build a business case for sustainability in five steps:

  1. Prepare

  2. Know your audience

  3. Construct the Case

  4. Crunch the Numbers

  5. Pitch the Case

If you missed the first four posts, go here to catch up. Quick recap: we have said that

  • a good business case is a compelling story about meeting a business need

  • Prepare: we must find out how and when decisions about proposals and business cases are really made in our company

  • To make a business case on a sustainability platform, daylight hidden opportunities for innovation by using your ESRO (environmental/social risk and opportunity) assessment to identify the needs of society along with the shorter-term needs of the business

  • Know Your Audience: "The fate of your project or initiative will usually lie with a small group or even one individual." (HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case, 2015).

Step 3: Construct the Case

Successfully completing steps 1 and 2 yield a clarified focus on the business need or opportunity.  Step 3 unpacks this need, turning it over and pouring out all its contents, sifting through them with the right people to develop deep understanding. 


You can think of "constructing the case" much like a lawyer might put a case together in order to convict someone of a crime.  If you consider the meticulous fact-finding, interviews and research the lawyer would undertake, you are beginning to understand Step 3.


Three major parts of constructing the case:

  • Gather the right team

  • Identify and clarify the business need 

  • Test your assumptions

Gather the right Simon Cowell not Simon the Cat

When gathering a cross-functional team to construct a case, you need to be more like Simon Cowell, or a general manager of a sports team, than a friend.  You are looking for diversity, expertise, multiple perspectives, and people who are not afraid of speaking their minds.


A few warnings:

  • Don't just recruit beneficiaries, those who stand to gain from the project as their bias will cloud your judgement

  • Look outside the company, get outside the box to think outside the box, especially to identify social and environmental risks and opportunities lurking in your blind spot. Attention:  this DOES NOT mean holding a conventional public hearing or open comment period.  This DOES mean involving smart, credible subject matter experts from outside the company early and often in the business case development process (as appropriate, understanding that some information must be kept confidential).

  • Don't go for a team of "power players", pe