How a life cycle-driven business model can accelerate sustainable value creation

"CSR is dead", declared Peter Bakker, President of WBCSD, and urged us to create new definitions of success. The change to a more holistic approach is already happening. However, shouldn’t we place the shared value that we create at the heart of what we do?

Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle thinking are quite unique in the way they look at the impacts of organisations and products – unlike other methods, LCA looks at the entire life cycle. Taking this holistic view and integrating life cycle thinking into the business is definitely necessary to create sustainable, shared value.

Do we want to go back or forward?

Organizational LCA, the model that comes to mind when you think of LCA as a business model, can be seen as a step back, in a certain respect, as it puts the organization at the heart and takes the traditional, linear business model as a starting point. This traditional approach is primarily about mapping out all costs and benefits (potentially including environmental and social impacts) for the company and then determining at the bottom line whether the business is viable. The result of this approach is a closed model: value that is created for others is not taken into account. But organizational LCA is not the only way to build a business model around life cycle thinking.

Business Model Canvas. Image Credits: Osterwalder, A. & Pigneur, Y. (2010). “Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challenger”, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Time for an open, life cycle-driven model

Wouldn’t it be better to turn things around and put the life cycle of a value proposition, whether a product or service, at the core of how we organize our businesses? Isn’t it time for an open, life cycle-driven business model? In this model, everyone in the ecosystem of a company should be able to derive value from their participation in the life cycle ecosystem, in one way or another. In LCA, we call this ‘defining the system boundaries’. This also leads to a situation where businesses are organized along their life cycle, as they need to take all actors into account – everyone affected by their positive or negative impacts. In this model, the life cycle of a value proposition is at the center of attention instead of one organization.

New Business Model. Image Credits: Jonker. J. (eds)(2014). “New Business Models: Collaborating to Create Value”, only available in Dutch. Den Haag: Academic Service.

The life cycle perspective opens up new opportunities and inspiration for innovation. Traditionally, organizations were organized ‘gate to gate’, but now we organize ourselves more and more ‘cradle to gate’ or even ‘cradle to grave’. The way we collaborate is much more bi-directional and the value is shared and multi-dimensional.

Organization of New Business Models. Image Credits: Jonker. J. (eds)(2014). “New Business Models: Collaborating to Create Value”, only available in Dutch. Den Haag: Academic Service.

More questions than answers

From a sustainability point of view, life cycle-driven organizations are the way forward.  You cannot create shared value alone. However, using the life cycle as the concept of how we organize ourselves raises a lot of questions that need to be addressed by each organization:

  • Can we define the system boundaries of this organization? Do we shift from ‘gate to gate’ to ‘cradle to gate’ or even ‘cradle to grave’ organizations?
  • Which actors do we take into account?
  • What is the value proposition or representative product that is the backbone of the life cycle?
  • How do we collaborate with other actors in the life cycle?
  • Which new opportunities for innovation are opened up by this life cycle perspective?

There’s a long road ahead, but if we want to redefine what successful sustainable value creation means, we need to start now.

Eric Mieras

Managing Director

Sustainability is all about impact. Positive impact makes you meaningful. But first you have to know where you are making an impact and where you can create shared value. That’s where PRé comes in. Pinpointing your impact is an essential starting point for taking joint action with people and organisations in your ecosystem. The combination of sustainability and social business can make a real change in the way we do business.

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