Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Introducing the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas

Last night I made the first public presentation of the results of my 3 year research project on Strongly Sustainable Business Models. Here's a ~3 minute audio-visual overview of the research project, the canvas and the next steps.

The presentation was made to the Canadian Association of Certified Management Consultant's Energy and Climate Change Special Interest Group in Toronto (Advertising for the talk is here) .

Antony Upward Presenting
(Photo by Larry Barnard)
I had a supportive and constructively critical crowd of 12 business architects, sustainability consultants, plus representation from Federal Government NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), and members of the International Institute of Sustainability Project Management (IISPM) (who blogged about the event here.)

 This is the presentation I made (unedited audio of the presentation and Q&A is available upon request).

The presentation is available for download on SlideshareI highly recommend you download it, view it in slideshow mode with the speakers notes; SlideShare appears to mess up some slides, and the speakers notes and animations (which aid comprehension) are not visible. 

The presentation was very much an experiment for me: how I told the story of my work, how I had constructed my slides, how I engaged with the audience (we had a number of exercises for the audience to try).   All in all it went off pretty well, although a combination of great questions and slightly too much material got us a little off track on timing.  Got some good ideas on things I don't need to talk about at such an introductory presentation: some topics can wait for a deeper dive.  

 Highlights of Survey Results
I also took the opportunity to conduct a small and highly unscientific survey the audience on the factors which they consider important to participating and funding a crowd-funded collaboration project - such as the one which the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group is planning  to undertake to bring the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas to the world (described towards the end of the presentation - slides 40-45).
  • People would be willing to pay ~$50 for a "real" book ($15 for an ebook)
  • Key topics include: description of the visual design tool, how to measure a sustainable business, a method for designing and implementing strongly sustainable business models, a self-assessment tool, examples / case studies
  • People like the idea of focusing on small and medium enterprises, as they may be able make changes to their business models faster, but didn't want us to forget about NGOs (and large business)
  • People like the idea of making the book applicable to people and organizations at all stages of  their sustainability journey - from just starting out to higher levels of maturity in achieving sustainable results.
  • The majority of the possible funder / collaborator value propositions (slide 45) were considered to be required or important by this audience.
  • People thought a contribution of around $200 would  be a reasonable ask for the crowd-funding
  • People thought organizations should be willing to pay around $4000 to join the project, with a "donation of services in-kind" and a "reduction for NGOs" being possible
  • 80% of the respondents would fund the project and one was interested in joining the core writing team.
Wow... looks, at least in this community,  like people are interested in our plans and willing to vote with their commitment and money!

(Hoping for a few more people to send me their survey;  Also we'll be improving the survey and releasing it on line soon... stay tuned)

All in all an empowering evening...  looking forward to figuring out how to boil this down to 15-20 minutes for a highly informed sustainability audience at the Open Space portion of The Natural Step Canada Accelerate conference in Guelph, Ontario, Canada June 10-11!   Looking forward to seeing everyone there!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Collaborating Designers are (part of) the Solution

The title of  Nathan Shedroff's excellent 2009 book  Design is the Problem: the future of design must be sustainable identifies a key challenge of our time: how can we best design so that what we create is sustainable?  What are the principles for designing things, policies, business models, organizations, services processes etc. which would lead all of these to be resilient and sustainable?

Shedroff provides an introduction to a very wide range of the current sustainable design approaches, tools, techniques, frameworks.

However, while Shedroff's introduction is excellent, it has a key weakness:  he doesn't explore in depth what sustainability might mean in general, in the context of the design process and outcomes, nor whether the material he presents is consistent with such an understanding.

John Ehrenfeld, considered by some to be one of the founders of the Industrial Ecology movement, attempts exactly such a deep dive in his excellent 2008 book Sustainability by Design: a subversive strategy for transforming our consumer culture.

One of the many useful ideas which emerges from this is a wonderfully inspiring definition of sustainability, which he defines in a style that is similar to how one might define fairness or justice:

The possibility that human and other life can
flourish on this planet forever.

The book proceeds with a deep, daring and worthy attempt at deriving design principles which, if followed, would reliably create flourishing.  This is in itself a must read: Dr. Ehrenfeld explores the parameters and considerations for such design principles.  He starts with a diagnostic of humanities current mode of "having" (as opposed to "being") and then builds from an exploration of fundamental human (and non-human) needs by Manfred Max-Neef.

Unfortunately, by his own reckoning, he doesn't succeed at identifying sustainability design principles.  This is rather frustrating, although given the complexity of the goal entirely understandable; indeed it appears that Dr. Ehrenfeld himself is disappointed.  Having clearly establishing the knowledge frontier he is unable to see through the fog beyond.

So where might one turn for such principles?  What was the barrier that prevented Dr. Ehrenfeld from penetrating the fog of the unknown?

Oddly perhaps, an idea struck me while reading the latest work by Donald A. Norman, who some consider the father of Human Interaction Design (HID, often called Human or User Interface Design).  As examples: in the 1980's he helped establish the Apple Human Interface Guidelines and then in the early 1990's wrote the seminal Design/Psychology of Everyday Things (to be revised fall 2013 with new chapters on Design Thinking and Design in World of Business).

What's odd?   As far as I am aware, at least professionally, Dr. Norman has never expressed views or an interest in environmental, social and economic sustainability; although of course a good user interface based on empathetic understanding of the user is a (small but vital) component of enabling human flourishing.  This latter idea is one Dr. Norman has consistently made.

So how did the connection between HID and Sustainable Design principles arise in my mind?  Let me tell you the story.

In Living with Complexity Dr. Norman does two important things.  

Firstly presents a mea culpa of sorts from his prior works.  He (finally) recognizes that simplicity should not be the goal of Human Interaction Design; rather the goal should be the presentation of the complexity necessary and inherent in all human activity in ways that facilitate learning, and efficient and effective use of a socio-technical system's functionality.  

It is clear that this re-framing of the problem that HID attempts to solve better aligns it with finding solutions to the problems arising from necessary complexity of the simultaneous integration of the environmental, social and economicAs Dr. Ehrenfeld points out, this integration is required for human flourishing, and of course, is generally ignored by profit first businesses (at an every increasing risk to their shareholders)

Secondly, in light of this realization, Dr. Norman updates the design principles for effective and efficient Human Interaction Design.  These can be summarized as:
  • A clear conceptual model of the interaction 
  • Clear signifiers to indicate the place and nature of the possible actions (commonly, but inappropriately, called 'perceived affordances' 
  • Discoverability, where a person could determine the potential actions at any time through inspection
  • Feedback to disclose what action has just taken place.
Dr. Norman goes on to state
"These are fundamental principles of interaction derived from understanding the psychology of the users. As a result, these are independent of the platform and the form of interaction. Whether the interaction is controlled by buttons  and levers, steering wheel and foot pedals, mouse and keyboard, gestures in the air or touchpad, these fundamental psychological principles still apply. The principles will be implemented differently for different systems of control and interaction, but they must be followed if the resulting systems are to be understandable."
(The above from 2012 Communication of the ACM article which amongst other things summarizes some of the books key points: reference below) 

So this in my mind led to a question: might these principles be the basis for the sustainable design principles which Ehrenfeld failed to find?

Might this profoundly empathetic approach to HID design be at the heart of the design of sustainable and resilient things, policies, business models, organizations, services processes?

 Collaborating Designers
So returning to the title of this post... perhaps Shedroff is only partially correct in his assertion that "design is the problem" and that "the future of design must be sustainable".  

I wonder if a collaboration of designers, and a synthesis from their respective works, for example Ehrenfeld and Norman might not also be required.

Imagine if Norman's socio-technical HID principles could be applied to the deep systems oriented understanding of the sustainability and resilience problem space which Ehrenfeld has developed?  How cool could that be? 

I will be attempting to get Ehrenfeld and Norman to comment on this idea...  if you know either of them, and think this idea has merit, please bring this post to their attention!

 Further Reading
  • Ehrenfeld, J. (2008). Sustainability by design: a subversive strategy for transforming our consumer culture. New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.: Yale University Press. 
  • Norman, D. A. (2011). Living with complexity. Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A: MIT Press.
  • Norman, D. A. (2012). Yet another technology cusp: confusion, vendor wars, and opportunities. Communications of the ACM, 55(2), 30-32. doi:10.1145/2076450.2076460
  • Shedroff, N., & Lovins, H. L. (2009). Design is the problem: the future of design must be sustainable. Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.: Rosenfeld Media.

Towards Business Design Principles for Strongly Sustainable Organizations

I'm busy writing up my thesis right now: "Towards an Ontology and Canvas for Strongly Sustainable Business Models: A Systemic Design Science Exploration".

Based on my considerable progress over the past 2 months I've just added my third post to the blog of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group (SSBMG), an applied research group within OCADU’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) that I helped to co-found. 

This new blog post is about one aspect on my thesis:
  • The Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology (SSBMO) and the canvas it “powers” (the SSBMC) asks the right questions of business model designers who are trying to create strongly sustainable business model designs…
  • But what, based on the same natural and social science literature of strong sustainability used to identify the questions asked by the SSBMC, are good answers to those questions?

In short: if you design your business model using the SSBMC, while adhering to the design principles for strongly sustainable organizations, when you measure your business using the Gold Standard for Sustainable Business (now known as the Future Fit Business Benchmark), you should find you meet that standard!

I look forward to responding to your comments on the SSBMG blog... now back to writing!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Plain English...What is it You're Doing?

Inspired by Steve Easterbrook and the the wonderful XKCD's recent attempt to explain the parts of a Saturn V rocket (the "Up Goer Five”) using only the most common one thousand words of English...

Now there is  a web-based editor that let’s everyone try their hand at this, and a tumblr of scientists trying to explain their work this way.  So I thought I'd also try to explain my work... and here it is... a little awkward in places...but hey... it's not so easy when you can only use the most common 1000 words!

I've just added a few links in case you want to know more specifics... and used the word science once (its unfortunately not one of the top 1000 commonly used words)
Our one amazing world is full: of people, the stuff we've made and of the things we've done!  Some of all this is good but much of it is bad: for us and our children.  So now in the well-off places people are not happier than they were 5, 10 or 30 years ago. People may have more money but they are not happier. 

Business is a very big part of both the good and the bad.  So what can business change so that they only do good for people, our towns, and all other life in our world while still doing well?  This is the question my work starts to answer.
But most businesses go out of business very quickly!  This is bad for the people in the business and the people with the money that started the business.  So nearly 10 years ago a student and his teacher figured out the 9 big questions that needed to be answered to make it more possible for a business to stay in business and make money. Then 4 years ago they worked with 470 very bright people to make a book that a lot of people like a lot.
Now I am taking these questions and adding 5 more questions, using what we know from science about people, our world and how it all works. If a business figures out good answers to all the questions, new and old, it makes it more possible for them to make money, do good for everyone and everything on our world, and to keep doing this for a long time.
In my studies, that are almost finished, I have built and checked an easy-to-use way for all kinds of people to make plans for businesses that can do good and do well for a long time.
The next step is to get another group of very bright people to make a book so everyone can use these ideas to make more of these businesses so the world can be a better happier place for everyone.
 Will you join us?  Contact us here

P.S. Part of the reason for doing this is that I'm entering the International "Three Minute Thesis" competition (flyer) and needed to write a 300 character summary of my research that previously looked like this!  

Here is the 300 character version that uses scientific, future, tool and an ampersand!
Our world is full. Some of this is good but much is bad. Business is a big part of both. How can we use scientific knowledge to help business make things better?

I have designed & tested an easy to use tool to reliably plan businesses that do good and do well for a long time into the future.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Food Eco-Industrial Park and Incubator - The Plant Chicago

How to describe "The Plant" in Back of the Yards on Chicago's South Side which I visited in late December 2012?

It is a net-zero energy and waste food business incubator and has at various stages of development:
  • Two breweries (one for tea, the other beer)
  • Two bakeries
  • A mushroom farm
  • Two fish farms
  • Two leafy greens farms
  • A jam producer
  • Demonstration and development kitchens
  • Training facilities
  • Rooftop, ground-level, and greenhouse Kitchen gardens
  • Shared office space and support services
  • Retail shop and visitors centre
  • Farmers market
The plant as it will be in 3 years

But as befits a project which John Edel, Executive Director describes as being planned using systems thinking, it's not just a list of businesses in a single building.  It far more integrated and multifaceted, though definitely not complicated.  Indeed there is a beauty to this business model...

 Outside In...
Looking from the 'outside' the project:
  • Is a start-up eco-industrial project creating high quality local sustainable food and jobs with zero net-waste and zero net-energy use
  • Is a business incubator for food producers, processors and retailers, including something like the Finnish "Open Kitchen" project
  • Has a collaborative, integrated and mutually supportive business model involving not-for-profit, for-profit and charitable organizations, the community, food entrepreneurs and consumers 
  • Aims to educate the local population about healthful food choices (in what many would describe as a food desert)
  • Is a proof of concept for an urban vertical farm
  • Is a green building project which is re-purposing a former meat processing facility through creative on-site reuse of all existing materials 

       Inside Out...
      From the inside, the business model is described by John Edel using a system dynamics like causal loop diagram - showing the cycles and flows of energy and materials through and in and out of each of  the various organizations and businesses involved:

      The System Dyanmics Flow of Materials and Energy in the Plant

      In this short talk by John Edel he explains much of the above and more with many more pictures! (Although John doesn't dwell on it there is some serious science and engineering behind this project).
      For a video which includes a good walk through of the first of the acquaponics (fish + leafy greens) farming operations (walk-through starts at 3m49):
       A Work in Progress...
      When I visited the foundations for the German Anaerobic Digester, similar to the ones installed as part of the Toronto Green Bin program back in 2004, were being actively excavated with installation and commissioning due for mid-2013.
      Eissenman Anaerobic Digester similar to the one being installed at The Plant
      The combined heat and power unit was installed, and the space for the chillers being actively prepared.  The tea brewery was in operation.  One of the bakery tenant's ovens was finished and awaiting final inspection and the 2nd aquaponic operation, a commercial tenant, was also just ramping up.  Mushroom production was underway and much evidence of other works in process! During the tour, which was led by John, he estimated that the space would be fully occupied by tenants within 3 years.
       So What...
      This is a wonderful example of the new art and science of strongly sustainable business model design!  It recognizes equally the need to simultaneously generate and integrate economic, social and environmental benefits while minimizing "costs" in all three dimensions.  At the same time it recognizes the context for all this activity and understands the necessary relationships between and with contexts for this business model.  Yes, it is more complex than traditional profit-first business models; but it is also far less risky in the short, medium and long term.  It recognizes the fundamental limits and needs of the environmental and a broad range of stakeholders - not just stockholders.  It will be effective at generating desirable outcomes for all.  Further by re-purposing waste as raw materials its operating costs for energy and raw materials will be lower, offering efficiencies higher than existing businesses in the same industries. BTW this is John Edel's second venture into strongly sustainable business: the first the highly successful Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center (CSMC).   The CSMC project, over 5 years, took a former manufacturing plant which had become a biker den and returned it to a profitable collaborative centre for small scale manufacturing! (John talks about it at the start of the video above). The continuing success of the CSMC bodes well for The Plant. From what I can tell this is a ground-breaking and unique project in North America - one that paves the way for many more.  Kudos to John and everyone else involved... may the Plant become a huge success and prove out its commercial, social and environmental viability...
      I will be following along with great interest! can we get one of these started in Toronto?
       More Detail
      For a great write up of the Plant see this recent article in the University of Washington's Conservation Magazine: The Inside Job by Canadian Jennifer Cockrall-King. The following are two panels which provide some more details which I photographed during my December 2012 visit to The Plant (right click to open in a separate window to view larger)