Sustainability as an add-on

In my last post I discussed the sentence “We’ve added sustainability to our mission statement”, which I’ve heard quite some times already. I’d like to continue where I stopped last time. Besides the discussion on whether or not a mission statement is a useful instrument, there’s a big problem with what I call “sustainability as an add-on”.

Sustainability at the core of your business plan

The problem with adding something to your business model is that you can also (and almost as easily) remove it again. This is something that you can see happen over and over again with companies and organisations that are facing a crisis. These companies often remove the things they’ve added last, in order to get their focus back on the core-business, in the hope this will end the problems they’re facing.

It won’t. And more important, by acting like this, employees and customers will stop believing you actually know how to guide your company and stop trusting you.

Sustainability is one of these “add-ons” that often get removed in times of crisis. If you look at sustainability as an add-on, it will never be at the heart of what you do. When sustainability is not at the heart of your company, actually becoming a sustainable company is impossible.

Sustainability is not relevant

The big problem here is not that managers don’t know how to act on big challenges, the problem is they don’t grasp the kind of challenge they’re facing with sustainability.

In terms of business models and business plans, sustainability in companies is best seen as the same kind of challenge as “making money”.

If you’re running an organisation, at some point you’ll need money. You’ll need money to pay employees, fund projects… In your business plan, making money will never be addressed as an add-on, it’s at the core of your model.

You will never hear a manager say “Last year we did pretty good on making money. Because of that, the problem of money is not as urgent anymore. Since we’re now able to pay you all for at least 4 months, we’ll stop asking money for our services until our bank account runs dry.”

The same goes for sustainability. Working on sustainability is not relevant or urgent; it’s just there. Just like you make sure everything you do will guarantee the future existence of your company, you should make sure that everything you do will guarantee the future existence of our planet.

Put sustainability at the core of what you do.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.


  1. Pingback: The future of sustainable design | Keep the game, change the rules

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