Making the Business Case for Sustainability

Green Biz


Wendy Jedlička (CPP, MIM) is a front-line sustainable packaging designer. We recently caught up with her to discuss her fully online course devoted to the subject, Making the Business Case for Sustainability.

SDO: What is your class about and who is it for?

Wendy: The class is about diving into the innovation advantages business schools are now finding in teaching design thinking (and helping designers see things with a business perspective). This look at business through a designer’s eye reveals the interplay between producers and consumers, governments and people, stockholders and stakeholders, people and the environment, and how all of these things interconnect and direct what and how we create. It is for people that want to walk away from a class with an understanding of the deeper implications of their decisions by learning to identify risk areas, long-term thinking strategies, and the basics of best practices in sustainability for business.

Past students have said that everyone should take this class. It not only helps students better understand how to “sell” their ideas, but helps them simply do business better. It gives them a clear understanding of business issues such as risk mitigation, supply/value chain management, decision impact scope, as well as honing the students’ ability to recognize and nurture opportunities to increase profitability and leverage innovation triggers.

SDO: What are the most important things you want students of your class to leave with?

Wendy: We’ll address the following important aspects throughout the course:

  • How to identify and craft systems to nurture opportunities for innovation.
  • How to clearly state a case for sustainability in business terms.
  • How to recognize and celebrate, minimize, or eliminate, decision impacts.
  • How EVERYone of us, and EVERY decision matters.
SDO: How do you imagine your students will apply what they learn in your class to their lives and/or jobs?

Wendy: I don’t have to imagine, I see them doing it! Given the opportunity to try out various business and economic scenarios with a more sustainably-minded focus within the safety of the classroom, students have gone on to: confidently start their own businesses, help clients change their operations, create more sustainable products, and even manage a whole city’s environmental effort!

SDO: In what ways do you apply Making the Business Case for Sustainability to your work?

Wendy: Making the Business Case is the title of the first chapter I wrote for both books a collection of SDO faculty members published with Wiley Publishing. The decisions surrounding the business case are the foundation for all efforts in a market economy. Most of the impacts humans make happen before the product or effort is put into production. Direction and decisions are made at the business level, when the project/effort is first proposed including setting the tone, limits, and outcomes that everyone on the value chain will have to deal with.

Skills learned in the Making the Business Case for Sustainability class are at the heart of all efforts for any industry. Positive change is only “sustainable” if you can make that effort sustainable.

SDO: What do you feel is the biggest challenge to designers interested in sustainability?

Wendy: Getting taken seriously as part of the strategic team before the design process starts. Part of why I chose to pursue a masters in international management was because many of my clients were multinational corporations. Wanting to serve them fully, and because the rules were changing for product responsibility in their markets, I needed the decision makers in the company to accept my insight as part of their front end strategic planning. Their old way of making a product and dumping it in a box as an after thought wasn’t going to fly anymore.

This class was designed to give students not just the vocabulary of business but the confidence to sit at the conference table to help provide direction by opening up opportunities for all stakeholders to make any effort more sustainable: environmentally, socially, and economically.

SDO: Anything else you’d like to add?

Wendy: We got into this mess with billions of ill-conceived decisions, we’ll get out with many more well-considered ones. Based on a Restorative Economic model, this class will empower students to look beyond sustainability to a place where we don’t just do “less bad” but are strategically positioning efforts to make “more good.”

Below are a few student comments from past offerings of this course:

“This class…has been one of the most engaging and challenging for me.”

“I have always been fascinated with economics, both with how boring and stiff it can be but also how the psychology, social and human factors of economics drives us globally.”

“To use economics as the way to assess, understand and persuade change where sustainability issues are concerned is enlightening and gives me a modicum of hope. I have gotten very bogged down in all the problems, now I can see the way towards the solutions because once you make a sound economic argument you speak a universal language that few cannot understand.”

“The readings, videos and assignments were cohesive and meaningful. I enjoyed this class immensely.”

“I feel like for the first time I truly understand what they are talking about when Congress comes on the TV to talk employment, tax cuts, fiscal policy, etc. Several times in the past few weeks something has come up to trigger a thought or recall of something I read or posted in class. I am more interested in economics more than I have ever been in the past.”

“All I can say is that I absolutely loved this class. I feel that the knowledge I gained has made me a stronger, more informed advocate for sustainability.”

“I came into the class with the idea that I’d learn to sell my ideas to my clients, I came out understanding how to run a better business. Which, in the end, is what really sells the ideas.”

Interested in taking this 15-week, fully online class that begins January 20? Contact us at sustainable_design[at]

Images are student work examples by @Eveyln Hussain and @Sarah Maki.

Wendy Jedlička

Wendy Jedlička (IoPP/CPP) has a strong background in design, manufacturing, business and marketing. She is an IoPP Lifetime Certified Packaging Professional and is president of Jedlička Design, a packaging design firm specializing in sustainable design and business strategies. Additionally she is co-coordinator in the U.S. for the o2 International Network for Sustainable Design. An internationally recognized speaker, Wendy writes feature articles on applied sustainability for design and business publications around the world, and is the contributing editor of two books for Wiley Publishing: Packaging Sustainability and Sustainable Graphic Design. Wendy is based in Minnesota.