Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • Independent of the number of students
  • 15 to 30 min
    Up to 3 lecture units
    4-7 lecture units
    up to 1 semester
    more than 1 semester
  • Internet connection necessary
  • English

Resource Description

Sustainable Canvas Model - structuring of sustainable business ideas(Resource ID: 50)

Students have many ideas for projects and business ideas in the area of sustainability. Often there are projects / business ideas, in which a group of students can work as a team. For successful implementation and long-term motivation a clear picture of the project/business is necessary. Using the CANVAS model (www.businessmodelgeneration.com), both complex and still relatively undeveloped project/business ideas can be structured and brought to paper, and thus a common vision and task distribution can be developed. Therefore, the CANVAS method serves as a blueprint to design, discuss and select business and project concepts in a team.

The CANVAS model (www.businessmodelgeneration.com) helps to structure project or business ideas. Often these ideas have long been in the minds of the students, and some of them are very well elaborated. During implementation, however, it might be difficult to keep track of the systemic context, especially if several students working on one idea. In unstructured projects, the motivation of the co-drops, and the idea is then often not realized. The CANVAS model builds on the same structure as a business plan. For the consistent creation of a business plan, it is advantageous to first develop a well-thought-out business model.

With the help of CANVAS, the already existing vague structure (first thoughts) can be developed, adopted and written down in an organized manner. Hence the students have a tool for structuring a business idea without forgetting essential features. While working with the CANVAS model, the team is encouraged (or even forced) to deal in detail with the idea.

When developing a business idea, the CANVAS defines the basic building blocks for a successful business plan. It favors strategies and forward thinking as well as creativity and joy in the implementation. The students work intensively with the matter and try out various business opportunities through play. The regions of the CANVAS define the frame for the development of the business idea. Following figure shows an example of the illustration of the 9 original regions of the CANVAS:

Fig.: Business Model Canvas (German version only!): you can see the 9 regions of interest (www.businessmodelgeneration.com)

We suggest to complete the 9 fields of the original CANVAS method (value propositions, customers, customer relationship, communication- and marketing channels, key partner, key activities, resources, cost structure, sources of income) with 2 fields, in order to pick out sustainability as a central issue. Hence our Canvas model would define 11 main fields (see list at the end of the description).

The CANVAS model was originally developed for the development of business models, but can also be applied in many other fields, such as the elaboration of ideas and the development of projects regarding complex issues in many diverse areas.


Depending on the size of the project team, the method can be carried out either as individual, partner or group work. Depending on the time available, a shorter or a longer version can be performed.

At the beginning the 11 regions of the CANVAS are briefly explained to the students with the help of the questions listed at the end of the description. Subsequently, each project team will receive either an already printed out CANVAS model in poster size, or a blank poster or flip-chart, on which they can draft their own CANVAS. The students write aspects of their business model on post-its and stuck them on the poster. Later they can move the post-its when necessary.

Short version without integration of stakeholders (30 minutes):

In this brainstorming session students collect all their ideas. It is up to them which areas of the CANVAS they want to focus on. Without limitation they map as many creative ideas as possible and collect them on the poster.

It is sufficient to focus on keywords, e.g. "We want to make money by offering our service and focus on students and university employees." In this step the students should not go too much into detail.

This version mainly serves to get familiar with the own business idea. A complete business plan can not be developed in this short time, as well as stakeholders can not be integrated into the process.

Extended version (dispersed to more than one lecture unit):

In the first unit, the students are expected to focus on the right side of CANVAS: value propositions, customer, customer relationships and channels. In the next unit they will focus on the remaining regions of the CANVAS. Care should be taken primarily on the state of the individual project teams: which team needs help regarding which field?

The students will start with input and questions for the first field (at least 20-30 minutes). Then they will have time to work out details of this region of the CANVAS (depending on the level of detail, this step can take between 10 minutes and several hours).

When the right side of the CANVAS is worked out, we recommend the first feedback session in front of the plenary. The teams will present their CANVAS model to the rest of the group, in order to receive constructive feedback and input from outsiders.

When the draft of the CANVAS is finished, the students will organize a meeting with one or more of the identified stakeholders of their choice. A stakeholder may be a potential customer, a potential business partner, a business angel etc. The teams will present their business idea, and if possible also a first prototype, in order to obtain constructive feedback and further input.

In the end, the teams will present the finalized CANVAS model in front of the plenary, in order to get a final feedback.

The lecturers will have to support the teams during the whole process and will provide input and feedback, depending on the needs and possibilities.

List of questions to the 11 CANVAS fields:

Following questions may help for a better understanding of the fields and the related topics:


  1. Value propositions:

a. General questions:

  • Which value do wecommunicateto the customer?
  • Which problems of ourcustomers do we helpto solve?
  • Which productsandservice packages do we offer to each customer?
  • Which needs of the customerdo wemeet?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Which benefits do I offerthe customer? New innovation,additional services,capacities? →Can Iset myself apart from other companies withthe samevalue propositionthrough a sustainablebusiness model?
  • How sustainableisthe productitself? Are there waysto makeit even more sustainable (e.g. recycling and upcycling offer, cradle to cradle)?
  • Which newmarkets do exist forthe start-uporproduct, ifthe aspect ofsustainabilityis taken into account?
  • Which additionalservices will enhancethevalue proposition? Transparency, social commitment, certification and labeling, sustainable value-added chain ...
  1. Customers:

a. General questions:

For whom doe we create value?

  • Who are ourmost important customers?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Is the problem, which we solve for/with the customer, an issue of sustainability?
  • Awareness raising: Do our customers already think in a sustainable way? If necessary, how canwe make themfamiliar with sustainability? Whatcan we contributeto a more sustainablecustomer segment?
  • Multiplecustomer segments: Is there a segment,whichiswilling to paymoreforsustainability? →offer
  • Transparencyand customer information: Is it possible to offer different productsand servicesfor different customersegments?
  1. Customer relationships:

a. General questions:

  • What kind of relationship does the customerexpect of us?
  • How can we realize a strong and honest relation with our customer?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Whichchannels will help me to buildthe bestrelationship? Sustainability canbe an importantaspecthere, g.online-shippingcould bea no-go forsustainability-orientedcustomers.
  • Open up newcustomermarkets: Always keepan eye sustainability-oriented (future) customers,and foster the product/ service development together with the customer group (co-creation).
  1. Communication- and marketing channels:

a. General questions:

  • Through whichchannels do we want to reach ourcustomers?
  • How are our different channelsintegrated?
  • Whichwork best?
  • Whatare the mostcost-effective?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • How can sustainableandresource efficientcustomer channels be created? Can innovative channels be used toattract the attention ofcustomersonthe company's performancein sustainability?
  • Are there any channels which provide a value for the customer? →"greenconscience" might be anadded value!
  1. Key partners:

a. General questions:

  • Who are ourkeypartners?
  • Who are ourkey suppliers?
  • Which keyresourcesare sourced frompartners?
  • Which are the keyactivitiesof ourpartners?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Which partnersfit mysustainablebusiness idea?Which partners provide sustainable production and shipment?
  • Which resources can we buy from the region?
  • Which experiencescan I usefromfunding agencypartners?
  • Can we reduce transport distances?
  1. Key activities:

a. General questions:

  • Which keyactivities requireourproducts/services?
  • How do I build up my distributionchannels,customer relationships and sources of income?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Which activitiestake into accountaspects of sustainability? Employeemotivation?Consumer intelligence, packaging redemptions, recycling, re-use,upcycling, cradle to cradle, efficient wastemanagement,efficientwater use, CO2 reduction...
  1. Resources:

a. General questions:

  • Which key resources do we need for our products/services?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • How can Ioperatemoreefficiently and conservative withthe resourcesI need?
  • Do my resource partnersthink/act/trade in a sustanable way?
  • Are the required resourcesreplaceableby more sustainableresources?
  • Can I treat my resources in a sustainable way: e.g. office -passive house, green electricity, heating, switching off lights, double-sided printouts,useprintereffectively...
  1. Cost structure:

a. General questions:

  • Which are the highest costs associatedwith our business model?
  • Which keyactivitiesare most expensive?
  • Which keyresourcesare most expensive?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • Where can wecut coststhrough resource efficiency?
  • In the purchasing, are somesustainableresources cheaper than their non-sustainable equivalents?
  1. Sources of income:

a. General questions:

  • For what value areour customers willing to pay?
  • What do they pay for now? How do theypaynow, and how do they wantto pay in the future?
  • How caneachsource of revenuecontributeto the total revenue?

b. Questions regarding sustainability:

  • What additionalsources of incomeare available forsustainabilityorientedbusiness?Promotions,environmental awards, premium products...
  • How can Igain profit with thesustainabilityaspectof my company?Certificates, voluntary sustainability initiatives...
  • How can Isave costsin addition toresources?Recycling,secondary materials, save electricity, save paper in the office...
  • Are mycustomerswilling to spendmore money for a"green conscience"? If so, howmuch?


  1. Eco Social Costs:
  • Which (negative, external) costs will mycompany generate forsociety and the environment? CO2 production, toxic waste ...
  • How can I reduce (or compensate?) these negative costs


  1. Eco Social Benefits:
  • Whatare the positive effectsof mycompanyon society and theenvironment? Climate change effects, education, creation ofquality jobs?
  • How doesmy company contribute to the common welfare?


The original CANVAS (author: Alexander Osterwalder) with 9 regions was licensed under the same Creative Commons license. It is important to ensure that the original website is mentioned (www.businessmodelgeneration.com), as well as any changes need to be highlighted!

Type of teaching method
  • Brain storming
  • Reflection
  • Creative method
Preparation Efforts Description
You need to prepare a Canvas poster for each group. To improve the outcome (e.g. consistent business plan), we suggest to also develop a well thought out business model first.
Related Teaching Resources
No previous knowledge needed. However, if the students plan to improve the outcome (e.g. consistent business plan), we suggest to develop a well thought out business model first.
Necessary documents / materials

  1. Prepared CANVAS or blank posters of the size A1 or A2

  2. Printed list of questions to the 11 CANVAS fields

  3. Paper

  4. Pens

  5. Post-it's

Integration of stakeholders
The students organize a meeting with one ore more adequate stakeholders and present their business idea and the CANVAS model in order to receive constructive feedback and further input.
Topics of sustainability
- Sustainable business model
- economic pillar of sustainability
- sustainable start-ups
Situations appropriate for this method
Sustainable start-ups, business idea, business plan, project
Strengths of the method
When developing a business idea, the CANVAS model defines the basic building blocks (regions) that must be considered in order to write a successful business plan. It favors strategies and forward thinking as well as creativity and joy in the implementation. The students work intensively with the matter and try out various business ideas through play. The input of an appropriate stakeholder creates the students confidence to actually implement their own planned business idea.

The method provides a win-win situation for students and stakeholders. While the students benefit from the feedback of stakeholders, the stakeholders are faced with new sustainable business ideas in their business domain. The method can also create opportunities for "co-creation" cooperations, if a stakeholder is enthusiastic about the idea and a direct economic benefit is expected. Then the group of students might be paid for the development of the idea by the stakeholder, who will recieves shares in the newly formed enterprise.
- complex issues will be illustrated
- thinking process will be stimulated
- Reflection and systemic view of complex issues
Weaknesses of the method
Weaknesses: In order to improve the outcome (e.g. consistent business plan), the students have to develop a well thought out business model first.
Assessment / evaluation
Sources and Links


Funded by
This teaching resource, realised within the project ConSus, has been funded with the support of the TEMPUS of the European Union. The contents reflect the views of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Richard Kromp
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
BOKU - University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna
Center for Global Change and Sustainability


Creative Commons

Type of teaching method

  • Brain storming
  • Reflection