The theme of sustainable consumption is a great topic with the holiday season rapidly approaching. The ads for Black Friday, a major shopping day on U.S. Thanksgiving next week, are filling my web browser as I’m on a U.S. IP address with my work computer. (“U.S.” Thanksgiving is different than “Canadian” Thanksgiving. In Canada, we celebrate in October and although the holiday centers on consuming food, overall it isn’t as shopping and consumption focused as the U.S. version – yet.)

To talk about sustainable consumption we really have to talk about “Sustainable Business Models.” I’ve recently been doing research on Sustainable Business Models inspired by my dissertation supervisor who is doing leading edge research in this area. Dr. Nancy Bocken has a great website of her own with highlights of her research which you can find here: http://nancybocken.com/

Before investigating the literature, I had trouble conceptualizing what a sustainable business model would look like versus a regular business model. I thought “Don’t all businesses, aside from shell corporations or companies set up with a specific short-term interest, need to think about some elements of sustainability – at least financially?” Of course, it’s more sophisticated and exciting than that!

Dr. Bocken’s research shed some light for me on what exactly a SBM is through her work on “sustainable business model archetypes” (Bocken et al, 2014). Her research built on the existing but very limited literature on SBM innovation to capture a wider variety SBMs and comprehensive review. Through each of these SBMs you can see the opportunity to reduce consumption in absolute or create more sustainable consumption models. The sustainable business model archetypes from Dr. Bocken’s research are:

  • Maximise material and energy efficiency;
  • Create value from ‘waste’;
  • Substitute with renewables and natural processes;
  • Deliver functionality rather than ownership;
  • Adopt a stewardship role;
  • Encourage sufficiency;
  • Re-purpose the business for society/environment;
  • Develop scale-up solutions.

From: http://nancybocken.com/sustainable-business-model-archetypes/

The concept of more radically disruptive approach to sustainability through business model innovation – beyond product innovation for sustainability – has been occupying a great deal of my thinking as I’m wrestling with how to incorporate it to my dissertation research. I have always been a fan of different corporate governance models having exposure to the co-operative business model at an early age and serving on the board of a large retail co-operative in B.C., Canada. As much as I love the theory behind it, I’ve become skeptical about the co-operative model and the closely related credit union model. During my undergrad at Queen’s, I took a fantastic course from Professor Edwin Neave on Financial Institutions. In that course he shared with us that credit unions, despite being popular in Canada, exhibit lower growth rates than traditional banks.

I promised earlier during our course work on governance models and legal business structures to do a comparison of co-ops and B-Corps. With this task still outstanding, the additional lens I would like to apply to that comparison is: which legal structure (co-ops, B-Corps, corporations) is the best fit to enable a SBM? I now think that the comparison of legal structure alone is outdated given the additional thinking on the potential disruptive impact of SBMs – regardless of the legal structure the owners of the firms use to incorporate them with.

So what are my favourite examples of sustainable consumption via SBMs here in Toronto, Canada?

A local example in Toronto that comes to mind for the “functionality rather than ownership” architype is the Toronto Tool Library. At the Toronto Tool Library you can borrow tools for construction and DIY projects. I came across the TTL because they also have 3-D printers you can use to create projects without investing in a 3-D printer. I took a course to learn to 3-D print there a few years ago after reading so much about it in The Economist; I had to try it for myself. Since I visited, they have now expanded to two locations in Toronto. You can find more information here: http://torontotoollibrary.com/

toronto tool library

3-D Printing a Bottle Opener at the Toronto Tool Library, January 2014.

This holiday season think about how you can support a SBM and sustainable consumption! How can you give without encouraging more consumption? What are your favourite architypes within the SBMs? Can you think of any examples in your local area?

 

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