What does the buzz word sustainability mean to you?
At PBI, our vision is to create and implement new knowledge for a more sustainable world. This is something that we are very proud of and feel like we are one of the few companies that actually have the methods to drive sustainable change.
For us, sustainability derives from a business ecosystem view – a methodology that ensures sustainable industrial investments for our customers. Companies operate in business ecosystems consisting of business models (Tsvetkova et al 2017) and thereby the value creation system consists of numerous categories of actors that need to be considered. A business ecosystem is also an institutional structure, a context within which organizations operate and interact and which is guided by a set of rules, roles, players etc.
Sustainability and industrial ecosystem change
A business ecosystem is shaped by its actors while it also shapes its actors. It is an outcome of market forces. However, this does not mean that the current structure of a business ecosystem is optimal from a value creation perspective. When an innovation is introduced to a market it may disrupt the whole ecosystem and require fundamental changes in it. Uber and AirBnB are good examples of this.
Overall, these changes require a strong vision of the future desired state. Very often there is too much focus on specific components of the system instead of an overall vision of the goal – the new ecosystem. Once the vision is clear, there are three sustainability areas that play a vital role: 1. information flows, 2. financial streams and 3. supra-organizational strategies.
In the value creation process the companies (and other actors) interact mainly by exchanging information. Hence, the information flows of a new business ecosystem need to reach a sustainable level for the industrial ecosystem to work in an optimal way. This requires mapping the existing and creating additional information flows – and new data integration between ecosystem actors. Understanding all the signals that affect an optimal performance of the ecosystem is the key.
Second, the enabling factor to changing the ecosystem is to optimize the financial streams in the ecosystem. The value of assets used in the operation of a business or an entire ecosystem might not change when the ecosystem is disrupted, but the financial streams need to be redirected or restructured so that they reward a more sustainable value creation process and thereby enable ecosystem change.
Third, we need boundary spanning methods to change the ecosystems. Individual company strategies are not sufficient in re-designing inter-connected ecosystems. There is a need for supra-organizational strategies.
This blog post is the first one in its series. Currently PBI is actively creating and implementing new, more sustainable ecosystems in short sea shipping and energy markets, for example. During the autumn, we will write more about the three sustainability factors of a well-functioning ecosystem; financial streams, information flows and supra-organizational strategies.