The Sustainable Business Model Canvas

Ciaran Armstrong

Sustainability Professional | Facilitator
Sustainable Business
Oct 11, 2023
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👉 To access the canvas click here.

The Sustainable Business Model Canvas is designed to aid existing businesses and entrepreneurs to view their operations from a holistic perspective. Rather than focussing solely on economic outcomes, the canvas dives into the environmental and social aspects - encouraging you to view the interconnections binding each layer.

The original business model canvas (BMC) developed by Osterwalder and Pigneur, is widely used and highly regarded among entrepreneurs. Although extensive, it does not account for the social and environmental impacts of a business.

Step in Joyce and Paquin (2016) who developed the Triple Layer Business Model Canvas (TLBMC) to incorporate the social and environmental impacts. You can read their full paper here.

I wrote a blog about the sustainable business model canvas a couple of years ago now, with a link to a PDF where you could download each layer - it received 100s of downloads. It dawned on me that I was giving people a link to a PDF which they couldn’t do much with, as it’s pretty tricky to write on top of PDFs.

So I created a version on Canva which allows you to edit it, tweak it, write on it, download it, etc.

That went down well, so I thought I’d come back with a 3rd iteration which includes a Demo business to give you an idea of what it looks like when you've completed it. This version also includes prompt questions to help guide you through. To access it, click here.

I’ve added one extra layer in which encourages you to think about your purpose and core values. But asides from that, all the credit goes to the original researches. My role here is just to try make it easier and more accessible to use.

💷 Economic Layer:

The economic layer is the foundational segment. Here, entrepreneurs and managers assess the financial backbone of their operations. This includes identifying key partners who add value to the business, the primary activities that the firm undertakes, and the resources necessary for these actions.

Additionally, this layer dives into the unique value proposition of the product or service, how the company relates to its customers, and the channels used to reach them. Crucially, this layer also evaluates the primary costs associated with business operations and the revenue streams that drive profitability.

🌱 Environmental Layer:

Given that there is no business on a dead planet, this layer is vital. We must significantly improve our consciousness when it comes to our ecological impact and this layer enables just that.

This layer covers everything from the supply chain's environmental impact to the end-of-life implications of a product. This isn’t just about pinpointing negative impacts but also celebrating areas where a positive environmental change has been effected. By considering every phase, from materials to distribution, businesses can identify areas for improvement and innovation.

🤝 Social Layer:

Ultimately you want to improve your impact on the triple bottom-line (people, planet, profit). As the name implies, the social layer seeks to evaluate a business's footprint in the societal domain.

This involves gauging how operations affect local communities, the internal governance structures in place, and the impact on employees. Additionally, it challenges businesses to think about the larger social value they create, their influence on societal culture, and their overall outreach. The end-user's quality of life, both in terms of product benefits and broader societal implications, is central to this layer.

⭐️ Values & Purpose:

Serving as the compass for all business actions, the values and purpose layer underscores the fundamental beliefs and mission that drive a company. This isn't just about slogans or marketing messages but the deep-seated reasons a business exists beyond profit.

By clearly articulating values, businesses can ensure consistency in action, foster a united organisational culture, and resonate authentically with their audience.

In Summary

Incorporating these layers into business modelling encourages you to embrace a more holistic approach and acknowledge the true complexity of the world.

Whether you're a budding entrepreneur or an established business, utilising the Sustainable Business Model Canvas can offer a clear roadmap for meaningful, sustainable impact.

👉 Access the Canvas

To access the canvas, click here.