Model Behavior: Helping Companies Drive Green Business Model Innovation

model-behaviorBy Adam Tassle
This article was first published by Sustainable Brands on November 5th, 2014

On Tuesday at SBLondon I was privilaged to join Matt Loose and Zoe Arden of SustainAbility, a key think tank and advisory service, at their afternoon breakout workshop. They were presenting their new publication ‘Model Behaviour’, exploring the role and practice of business model innovation in the context of sustainability.

Model Behaviour is the result of extensive research, compiling information from 100 companies and documenting more than 80 examples of business innovation, to create a framework of 20 potential models from which to consider the journey towards more adaptable, responsible and ethical businesses.

I imagine many people will be asking themselves whether tinkering with their business model is really worth it? Change can be a difficult and messy process and haven’t existing business models have coped ok thus far? “Disrupt or be disrupted” cautions Matt Loose, the landscape of business is shifting as the impacts of resource scarcity, climate change and evolving political and social attitudes threaten to interrupt or curtail our traditional models.

In addition, it is clear from the study that business model innovation is already occurring across many industries to varying degrees. Zoe Arden cited companies such as Wallmart and Rolls Royce as examples of major industry players that have begun replacing conventional system elements such as long-distance supply chains and one-off product sales, with responsive business strategies such as local supplier networks and product leasing services. Innovation like this has the potential to drastically alter the balance of power within these industries and the danger is that brands that are slow to adapt, could eventually find themselves struggling to compete.

Unfortunately, the sheer range of innovation possibilities can make the process of business model innovation a daunting and confusing prospect, so the aim of today’s workshop was to demonstrate how the Model Behaviour framework can be used to navigate the process and to demonstrate how some of the 20 innovation models identified in the report could be applied to a real-world business.

Participants were given the challenge of helping a home improvement store to make progress towards sustainable raw material sourcing, and to adapt to the challenges of ‘throw away’ culture amongst its consumers. After animated and enthusiastic discussion, delegates generally agreed that a service-based business model incorporating elements of closed-loop recycling would help to satisfy these corporate objectives. For a diverse range of participants, whose backgrounds spanned academia, social enterprise, manufacturing and service industries to reach such a consensus, shows that Model Behaviour is indeed a valuable tool for discussing practical ways to adapt businesses to the threats and opportunities they face.

So what’s next for Model Behaviour? Following the success of this initial publication, SustainAbility is now beginning a second phase of the framework to delve deeper into transitioning firms, and explore the reasons why selected innovation strategies fail or flourish. With this insight, the next iteration of Model Behaviour can help businesses to avoid common pitfalls and create an environment where more responsive, more resilient and more sustainable businesses can flourish.