Further developing Edward James Consulting Ltd.‘s service was the focus of Antony Upward’s research at  the York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and Schulich School of Business.

Mr. Upward is one of the co-founders of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group (SSBMG) at OCAD U’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab).   He is collaborating with other members of the SSBMG to extend this work through a program of action research; please see our blog


Mr. Upward’s research built and validating an ontology (structure / tool) which can be used to describe the design of strongly sustainable business models.

The title of his research project is Towards an Ontology and Canvas for Strongly Sustainable Business Models – A Systemic Design Science Exploration.  This research is now summarized and published as four increasingly well cited peer-reviewed articles in respected journals (citations and manuscripts here)

The popular book by Alexander Osterwalder, "Business Model Generation" has a great practitioner tool for designing business models – the Business Model Canvas (BMC).  As of July 2012, this book had sold nearly 1 million copies in 26 languages since launch in mid-2010.  The canvas the book describes is based on the Business Model Ontology (BMO) developed in his 2004 PhD.

However, Osterwalder and most other business model scholars assume that a businesses primary goal is to make monetary profit (with other goals being subservient).

What is Strong Sustainability?

“Strongly Sustainable” is a term used by Ecological Economists to indicate the impossibility of replacing all natural capital with any of the other six capitals (human, intellectual, manufactured, social or financial capital).  This is felt to be particularly true in time frames which might help mitigate the worst effects of climate change and other anthropomorphic impacts as described by the IPCC and other bio-physical science.

Achieving strongly sustainable outcomes implies the need for organizations to integrate the achievement social, environmental and monetary goals and is very much aligned with the The Natural Step System Conditions for a Sustainable Society.

See this page for more on what the idea of strong sustainability might mean to organizations, as well as our blog posts.

Core Idea and Benefits

The core idea of this research is to extend the Business Model Ontology developed and tested by Osterwalder to be able to describe “strongly sustainable” business models - business which are sufficiently profitable, while simultaneously creating social and environmental benefits. 

This extended ontology is called the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology (SSBMO).  Inspired by Osterwalder, a practitioner visual design tool, the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas (SSBMC), is also being developed, powered by the SSBMO.

Such an extended business model ontology and canvas is intended to help organizational designers efficiently create high quality strongly sustainable business models (i.e. business models which are reliable, internally and externally consistent, and effective at helping to create strongly sustainable operating businesses).

The value of the canvas includes enabling organizations, such as Benefit Corporations and members of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, to design and document their future (more sustainable) business model. Businesses can then use their future business model as part of the Natural Step "back-casting" process to more effectively drive their change plans.

Next Steps: Journey to Market

The Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas are currently being further developed and tested by the 12 members of the Flourishing Enterprise Innovation Toolkit project. (formally the Strongly Sustainable business Model Innovation Toolkit project).

Early testing has included comparing the ontology against the B-labs Impact Assessment Survey v3, reviewed with 7 experts and used in comparative case studies of 2 businesses - including one of the first certified Benefit Corporations in Ontario.   In addition the ontology has been critiqued in various seminars and lectures, used in a consulting project, and in an interactive business model workshop in the OCADU Design with Dialogue community of practice  (see this blog post for details).

Subsequently the Flourishing Enterprise Innovation Toolkit project has used its free First Explorer licensing program to engage nearly 100 other practitioners around the world in the further development and testing of this tool and associated methods for  its practical use. 

Edward James Consulting is directly working in projects started by two of these First explorers:

  1. Lean for Flourishing Startups "Innovating Innovation with the Startup Ecosystem".  This project is focused on learning, content, methods and tools to help organizations encouraging entrepreneurs and their startups to benefit from the innovative flourishing approach.  Based on its integrated Flourishing Entrepreneurship competency model, Lean for Flourishing works with entrepreneurial encouragers (accelerators, incubators, co-working space, corporate innovation centres etc.) to enable them to innovate they way they help entrepreneurs be innovative and achieve their goals.

  2. Better My Business "Co-Creating Innovation for Benefit".  This project is focused on professional service design, frameworks, methods and tools. Better My Business then applies these with enable leaders of established small and medium sized enterprises to gain the social, environmental and economic innovation and risk reduction benefits of the flourishing approach. 

Longer term plans include releasing the tool under a Creative Commons license without commercial restriction (CC-BY-SA) and publishing a handbook (and later a full book).

Research Design

The design of this research project is based on Design Science, Systems Thinking (specifically Soft Systems Methodology, but influenced by Systems Dynamics), and Ontology Engineering.

Please see this SlideShare Overview Presentation for an overview of the entire methodological approach which explains how these three approaches are integrated.  (It appears SlideShare doesn't perfectly reproduce PowerPoint, some of the graphics are messed up and the animations disappear - so downloading the presentation is a good idea).

Sharing: Radical Transparency While Enabling Stewardship

Clearly radical transparency, including a comprehensive sharing of the output of this research under applicable Creative Common or similar licenses, is the way which is best aligned with achieving Mr. Upward’s overall objective: help organizations locally, nationally and internationally change to become strongly sustainable – i.e. to change the world for the better.

However, within this objective, a key requirement is to establish a secure professional foundation – intellectually and monetarily for the long term . 

Therefore for the time being, and to enable stewardship over this work in the long term, Mr. Upward is retaining commercial rights to this work.