<<Back to Insights

Sustainability: Business Development’s ‘now’ moment

Business development professionals have a lot to gain, and a lot to offer the growth of sustainable business, says TPB’s Fiona Donnelly.

I’m going to put it out there: Today is a heyday for Business Development (BD) professionals.

We’re not donning capes and single-handedly saving the world. But by collaborating in closer and more strategic ways with professionals in areas including risk and finance, this complementary force of commercial smarts have a significant and increasingly urgent task: to move business on to a more responsible and sustainable track.

All of us – well, hopefully – are more than ever reflecting on and improving how we consume, invest and handle increasingly precious resources. The bottom line is clear: if we continue doing what we are doing, we’re on the path to social and environmental catastrophe. However, if we accept that business landscapes and markets must drastically change – and that we can make a significant contribution to doing so – then new business models and opportunities are there for the taking.

There are four key reasons why BD professionals have a vital role to play in this business evolution:

  • BD pros have strategic views on business and influence both what is done – and how. This includes looking at changing market opportunities and risks, increasing numbers of which arise through taking into account environment, social and governance (ESG) considerations.  For example, look at LOOP – an entire business that has been built around the need to avoid single-use packaging.  This perspective at the top can have a profound impact on goals and approach.
  • BD is a function that sets the direction for and affects the entire business. Business strategy should be an overriding, guiding light that cascades down the organisation. From it, individual business units and functions then develop their strategies, approaches and KPIs. Simple things like defining and sharing procurement codes can align all business functions to common principles, and help source the optimal supply chain partners. Allen and Overy is one firm that is committed to this approach.
  • BD teams also look at elements that are vital to the success of sustainability. For example, the long-term economic sustainability and financial success of an organisation, through winning and retaining clients. Part of this outcome will involve managing the reputation and brand, a task that often falls for BD to lead. What an organisation stands for in sustainability, can then be reflected consistently in the brand.  TOMS shoes is a case in point – whenever a pair of shoes is bought, they fulfil their ‘One to One’ promise to help a person in need.

The skillsets of BD pros involve engagement, communication, persuasion, relationship management and making the business case of costs and values. These are also exactly the skills required to positively impact sustainability.

  • The skillsets of BD pros involve engagement, communication, persuasion, relationship management and making the business case of costs and values. These are also exactly the skills required to positively impact sustainability. For example, through working with industry partners to bring about systemic changes in value chains, such as downstream handling of the waste of one organisation, like construction waste, that becomes the food stock for the next, like eco-cement or eco-pavers.


There are also many strategic and operational things that a BD team can do to play a stronger part in bringing a sustainability commitment to life. Some ideas include:

  • Reflect on revenues earned today and then at what that mix could look like in 5 or 10 years given external ESG risks and opportunities that are outside the control of an organisation. For example, property developers need to evaluate the susceptibility of their portfolio (and hence revenue) to different scenarios such as extreme weather or sea-level rise in the long term – as well as the demands of more exacting specifications for ‘green leases’ in the short term.
  • Spread the commercial pollen – given BD’s role at and perspective from the top of an organisation, it can really play a role in sharing ideas. Often within one organisation, there can be good practices stuck in one business unit or country that would be of significant benefit to others. BD pros can mine the successes of one area before tailoring and applying them to another eg if staff policies in one country produce a loyal workforce and continuity of service provision to clients, can these policies be reflected in other markets?
  • Use sustainability as a platform for proactive innovation. Some organisations have used changes in sustainability issues as a reason to build cross-disciplinary teams who then propose innovation, be they novel internal policies or totally new areas of business. Some organisations have even used sustainability as a platform for broader engagement and developing relationships with clients – for example, working together to develop new designs that minimise waste and maximise re-use.
  • Influence and articulate what your organisation stands for sustainability-wise and align what the BD team does. For example, if an organisation is inviting people to ‘think before you print’ why not also do away with printed brochures (and go digital) or cut back on superfluous corporate collaterals and goodie bags.  Policies on such ESG topics are becoming commonplace and sometimes proposal marking schemes can include an allocation of points for ESG. So embracing sustainability could even be a way to steel an edge over competitors when trying to win new business.


Please contact The Purpose Business if you would like more information or assistance in embedding sustainability in your business strategy and operations.

Want more from The Purpose Business?

Sign up here to get news and insight on sustainability and business in Asia.

Latest Insights

Eats complicated: understanding green food labels

TPB's Mabi David is here to help you, and your customers,  make sense of eco-claims and green food labels. Organic. Artisanal. Free-range. Local. Ethical. […]

The 2020s: the decade for Asian business leadership in ESG


Businesses in Asia increasingly recognise the value of sustainability says TPB Founder & Director Pat Dwyer,  yet the race to future-proof the planet has never […]

Leading with purpose and transforming business in Asia

Sustainability Advisor  Diana Chen investigates the drivers of purposeful transformational change for business leaders in Asia. Any discussion around corporate purpose traditionally starts with a […]