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Sustainable business models need trends as the first step

“What is the first step in developing sustainable business models?” – a question that I have come across very often in recent months. Many companies want to start developing sustainable business models, but are unsure about how to take the first step and where the necessary innovation comes from.

The field of sustainability, and therefore also the area of sustainable business models, is huge and it is not easy to find an efficient and effective approach or entry point that is also innovative. In addition, a basic knowledge of the development of business models is essential.

Pillars of sustainability

To approach a sustainable business model, you first need to take a closer look at the topic of sustainability. The best way to do this is to look at the pillars of sustainability – this opens up three major dimensions:

Sustainability is based on three pillars:

  1. Economic sustainability: This pillar refers to business practices and technologies that ensure long-term financial success without compromising the other pillars of sustainability. It includes aspects such as profitability, economic growth and jobs.
  2. Social sustainability: This pillar refers to fair business practices that respect human rights, promote equality and contribute to improving the quality of life. It covers aspects such as health, education, justice and equal opportunities.
  3. Environmental sustainability: This pillar focuses on reducing environmental impact and protecting natural resources. It includes aspects such as waste avoidance, energy efficiency and biodiversity.

Ideally, sustainable business models require that all pillars (ecological, social and economic) are considered equally and in harmonious balance.

Sustainable business models

With the three pillars of sustainability, these can now be viewed in the context of business models. So before we take a closer look, let’s also clarify the key question: “What are sustainable business models?”

Sustainable business models are strategic approaches in which companies balance their economic success with social responsibility and environmental protection. They aim to design business processes in such a way that they use resources efficiently, minimize waste and limit the impact on the environment. They also promote fair working conditions and actively participate in social projects. They not only offer economic stability in the long term, but also contribute to the achievement of global sustainability goals. This is why they are becoming increasingly important in today’s business world.

In our current society, the development of our own business model towards a sustainable business model is an inevitable step for companies that still want to be around in 10 or 20 years’ time. Of course, this step comes with some challenges.

Our sustainable innovative challenge

If you want to develop your current business model into a comprehensively sustainable and highly successful business model, you need to be very clear about the following aspects:

  • You are probably dealing with completely new target groups and markets
  • You have probably combined new technologies with yours
  • You have acquired a broad knowledge of trends
  • you establish a new sustainable mindset in the company
  • You have probably modeled new processes
  • and many more new and exciting things

It is often the case that companies are aware of all these challenges and are already tackling them. Nevertheless, it seems as if things are still stuck somewhere and you just can’t get into action. Why is that? In recent years, I have often realized that there is usually only one thing missing to start developing a new sustainable business model: “Enough knowledge and inspiration about the things that already exist in our world!”. In our history, we have simply become specialists who are like Diogenes in his barrel when it comes to the exciting and great possibilities of sustainability. And that’s where we have to get out! How? Trends can provide a remedy.

The first step – start with trends and a trend radar

Working with trends is the logical and very best step towards sustainable business models. The handling and tools relating to trends are also taught in the innovation coach training course. Short and crisp:

  1. Anyone in the company can work with trends – no specialist knowledge is required
  2. Everyone in the company should work with trends
  3. “Trends are visitable and usable realities!” – Trends should not be confused with futurology!
  4. Trends are easy-to-understand bits of knowledge
  5. Trends are valuable inspiration for sustainable innovation
  6. Trends help you to think outside the box in no time at all

Step 1.1 – Get access to one or more trend sources

There are many companies that specialize in trend research. They offer services to help your company identify and understand target-oriented trends in various areas, including sustainable business models. Here are some examples:

  1. TrendOne is an international trend research and innovation company based in Hamburg, Germany. TrendOne offers customized solutions for identifying and analyzing emerging trends in various sectors and industries.
  2. Gartner – Gartner is a leading global research and advisory company. They provide market analysis and insights into various industries and technologies, including sustainability trends.
  3. Forrester – Forrester is a global market research firm that provides insight and analysis on technology and market trends.
  4. Mintel – Mintel is an internationally recognized market research company that regularly publishes reports on various industries and markets, including sustainable products and services.
  5. TrendWatching – TrendWatching is an independent trend research company that identifies and analyzes emerging consumer trends.
  6. Euromonitor – Euromonitor is a leading global provider of strategic market intelligence, market analysis and consumer data. They cover a wide range of industries and trends, including sustainability.
  7. The Zukunftsinstitut is one of the most influential think tanks in German-speaking futurology. They use extensive research and analyses to make well-founded forecasts about future trends. They help companies to understand and utilize trends in order to remain competitive and develop innovative, future-proof strategies.
  8. Futurist Gerd Leonhard – Gerd Leonhard is an internationally renowned futurist who focuses on the impact of new technologies on society, the economy and culture. In addition to presentations, his team also offers consulting services for recognizing and adapting to future trends.
  9. Future Today Institute – The Future Today Institute is dedicated to researching emerging technologies and trends. It offers various resources and reports to identify and analyze trends.
  10. Fjord Trends – Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive, publishes its annual “Fjord Trends”, a report highlighting key trends in shaping business, technology and design strategies.
  11. PSFK – PSFK is a team of innovation experts that helps companies identify, analyze and respond to emerging sustainable trends.
  12. The Future Laboratory – The Future Laboratory is a strategic futures consultancy that helps identify and analyze future sustainable consumer needs, behaviors and lifestyle trends.
  13. Kantar- Kantar is one of the world’s leading data, insights and consulting companies. They offer a variety of services including market intelligence, consumer panel, innovation and new product development.

Step 1.2 – Make the macro trends of one source usable

If you have access to a trend source, such as TrendOne’s trend explorer, you can, for example, export the macro trends as PDF documents and print them out.

Macro trends are the right category to start with when it comes to finding ideas for sustainable business models. There are three important trend categories in total:

  1. Megatrends are major, long-term changes that occur over a long period of time and in many countries. They are often caused by profound social, economic or technological changes and have a broad impact on various aspects of life.
  2. Macro trends last longer, usually five to ten years, and can be observed in some countries. They are often broader in scope and can affect multiple industries or demographic groups. Several macro trends form a megatrend.
  3. Micro-trends usually relate to concrete, tangible and visitable things such as products, services, sports, research projects etc.. They are very specific and usually only influence a certain region or target group. Many microtrends form a macrotrend.

You will find around 120 macro trends in Trendone’s Trenddexplorer. Here are two examples:

Macro trend for sustainable business models - Food for Climate
Example of a macro trend – Source: TrendOne
Macro trend for sustainable business models - Sustainable Construction
Example of a macro trend – Source: TrendOne

Step 1.3. – Use an initial trend radar

Over the past few years, a family of tools has developed under the name Trendradar. With our verrocchio trend radar, even inexperienced teams can work with trends immediately and generate valuable results and inspiration for sustainable business models.

Sustainable business models need trends as the first step

The task that follows is very simple and has proven itself in our experience. You read the macro trend cards one after the other and assign them to types 1 to 4 of the trend radar. This works best and most efficiently in teams of two.

  • Type1 – Macro trends in the context of sustainability that are already taking place in our business or industry.
  • Type2 – Macro trends in the context of sustainability that are certain to take place in our business or industry over the next 5 years.
  • Type3 – Macro trends that we think could be exciting for us for a specific reason.
  • Type4 – Macro trends that are not relevant

Step 1.4 – Start brainstorming for sustainable business models

Now use the macro trends, with a focus on types 1 and 2, and start an initial brainstorming session. Let the trends inspire you to come up with your first ideas. Also use tools such as the “Sustainable Business Model Canvas”.

So if you are aware of the three pillars of sustainability, have them in mind, know the challenges along the way and are starting to look at trends – then nothing should stand in the way of successfully developing a sustainable business model.

Handwritten by Benno van Aerssen