Friday, October 19, 2012

The EcoSystem Creating the Future of Strongly Sustainable Business

It's been an inspiring week... talking to smart folks* about their dedicated work to design and bring into being strongly sustainable businesses.  But it left me with some questions...

First what do we call the collective systems that all these folks and all their organizations are helping to create?  I'm going to suggest we call them the "ecosystem creating the future of strongly sustainable business".  Perhaps this is an example of a value-constellation? (Thanks to Peter Jones for this idea).

Second.  This got me thinking about ways to explain and describe all this work...and perhaps this might help all these folks and their organizations collaborate with each other towards what I think they would all see as a common ideal goal.

One Ideal Goal

There is a growing consensus that we need to act quickly and at scale to help business move to adopt strongly sustainable business models, i.e an ideal goal of:
All business proactively enabling strongly sustainable outcomes
To, as John Ehrenfeld puts it:
Create possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever
(You can read more about this in my post Strongly Sustainable Business Models - Defining the Field)

 One Approach

Acting on Einstein's observation that you don't solve problems using the approaches that created them: there also seems to be a growing consensus that we need to move forward by using what we know works, but at the same time approaches we didn't use to create the current "mess".  In practice this would appear to  mean:
Collaborative Design + Systems Thinking
Together perhaps the ideal goal and the approach could be illustrated as follows:

Six Foci

Many people and organizations are working towards this ideal goal using this approach: but each has a number of foci - depending on their skills, knowledge and where they believe they can best contribute.

I'm suggesting it might be helpful to think about these foci in the following six groups (if you have suggestions for more or different please respond in the comments)
  1. “Gold Standard”  
    • What is organizational strong sustainability and how is it measured? (Based on the science of strong sustainability) 
  2. Skills, Competencies & Knowledge  
    • What do people need to know to be effective at creating and improving strongly sustainable organizations (and a certification to demonstrate competence)? 
  3. Education 
    • How to ensure people know what they need to know (facts and methods)? 
  4.  Method & Tools 
    • How do you efficiently design and implement businesses with high probability’s of achieving the “gold-standard” What tools can help? (Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas) 
  5. Community 
    • How can businesses making the journey to strong sustainability work together and support each other? 
  6. Services 
    • Provide services to businesses to accelerate the journey to strong sustainability 

Toronto Centric Example

So what does this look like in and around Toronto and the people I work with... rather an alphabet soup... but see the list below for the acronyms* ...

Is this perspective helpful?  Confusing?  What's missing?

Leave me a comment and let me know.

* Kudos and credit for the inspiration and ideas in this post to folks I spoke to over the past week (listed in the order we spoke!)  All the mistakes, errors and omissions however are mine.
Other organizations shown on the example diagram (in alphabetical order of acronym)


  1. Thanks for the (clearly comprehensive) effort Antony,
    I think this is really important work.

    As I mentioned the other day, we all know people, organizations and networks in this area, but it's hard to find a definitive list, let alone a visualization that maps their relationships.

  2. Antony, I like this line of thinking. It is useful to start identifying areas of focus, where there is overlap, where there might be gaps, and how groups can work together.

    I do think the six have a little too much overlap or risk of confusion. Perhaps some could be bundled together, or there may be a need for some layering or hierarchy. For example, the 'Gold Standard' focus is in some ways foundational to all others.

    I will give this some more thought and see if I can provide some more constructive comments. Great starting point though, I just think it might need to be iterated as you get other feedback.


  3. Bob Willard, who was one of the smart people who inspired this, commented to me by email:

    As food for thought on how we slice and dice the elements in your circles on slide 5, perhaps the TNS 5-level framework ( is another way to arrange them, with Tools at the bottom, the “Gold Standard at the Success Level, and so on.

    The more we play with the pieces of the puzzle, the more comfortable we become with their inter-relationships and inter-dependencies. That’s why we need a collaborative approach to crack this nut.

    Definitely food for thought... thanks Bob.

  4. I've also thought of some more important groups I missed from the original list. In no particular order:

    - Social Venture Exchange at MaRSS and all the other Impact Investing / Crowed Sourcing ventures
    - Live Green Toronto
    - The need for an process of making legislative changes to incorporation legislation (a la B Labs work)
    - Organizations which are making change in specific sectors - e.g. Local Food Plus (LFP) in the food sector - from farm to fork.
    - Organizations which are encouraging proactive design of creative solutions - e.g. Design with Dialogue (
    - Organizations which are explicitly trying to organize across systems which are currently locked in and need an outside facilitator to break through to a new design. The recently announced Natural Step Transition Lab is one early example of this.

    Ok enough for now...

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