Should we remove sustainability from business logic thinking?

It’s been a week since I stopped working as research associate in the field of System Sciences and Sustainable Business Models at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Looking back on reading many scientific papers on sustainability sciences, system sciences, sustainable ecologics, ecologogical and basic needs paradigms, it got me thinking whether we should remove notions towards sustainability from primary (business logic) thinking. It’s harsh of me to write so, but it also comes with different realities that are harsh too.

I want to write about it, not because I am against sustainability, but because I believe that what it “envisions” little holds true to the different realities we face today. Let me start with “selling sustainability”. Sustainability cannot be sold; carbon friendliness cannot be sold. It is something that can happen, because of how something primary has been produced and is then sold; A bamboo straw, as example, regrows rapidly. This makes it renewable and suitable as an ecological product; if it is consumed in regards to its regrowth time. However, for such bamboo straw business to be invested into it needs a use-case; for example “drinking something with a straw” because of reason(s) X and Y. It will not be invested into because its’ sustainable by design.

Another example is “selling human right compliance”. It is not something that is sold either, it is a result of something that is sold because it is wanted. For example, the chocolate brand Toney Chocolonely is commonly known as a chocolate producing brand with the intend to produce slave-free chocolate. That is what it is known and likely also bought for. What it is really bought for is the taste of its chocolate offering. The Chocolate Market size was valued at USD 124.03 Billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 165.17 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 3.6% from 2020 to 2027. So while Toney Chocolonely certainly brought into varience in product offering, the demand exist(ed) and continues to do. No demand for chocolate = no demand for Toney Chocoloney = no demand for “human right compliance”.

Now this can go on; selling “deforestation free”. You cannot sell deforestation free, but you sell a product as a company. It means you have to look at where you source what type of material how often, how you sell it to what type of customer and how investments return into reliable revenue streams. These aren’t bad. They are important. Being deforestation free can be a part of it, but when you talk to customers, you see the discussions will be more about styles, material features etc. Similiar notions can be found in selling “circularity”. It tends to be nothing that is sold as primary business logic, but it’s part of a service offering. For example the ability of certain Games in the Gaming Industry to be repaired, but you don’t buy games because they are circular but because of their fun, excitment and other factors.

It intruiques me to write more about it, but I decide to stop here. Why do I write about it? I care about sustainability and I am enthusiastic about business and the role of investement; what makes you invest into something. And certainly it can be sustainable, but you also want returns, and often that is the return of the consumer; I don’t want to live in a sustainable house because, but if solar pannels help me reduce the cost of my living than it is something I, as consumer am interested in. And if I can repair my coffee mashine in the next years without feeling annoyed about having to buy a new one again and again, then that’s something I am interested in. But what I really buy is the coffee mashine, the joy of it, the smell, the 5 minute peace in the morning.

Hope you enjoyed this post! I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on sustainability, business models and investements. Drop a message in the comments, also if you want me to closer look at (your) business logic or service offering.