Core elements of a business case

A business case is a justification for investment (not always financial) in an opportunity based on its expected benefits. It isn’t just an idea, it’s an idea that is costed, considers risks and opportunities, says how the idea can be implemented and provides confidence that what is being asked for can be delivered successfully alongside business benefits and other outputs.

Developing a business case involves a significant amount of desk-based research and analysis to understand the risks, opportunities and benefits associated with an idea and to build evidence needed to support it. It also involves lots of conversations with people - including experts in the field, those responsible for delivering the initiative and other key stakeholders – to find out what their views are and how they fit with the idea.

It is worth sharing an early draft with colleagues and a ‘critical friend’ to get their feedback before sharing more widely. For many business cases, an analysis of the financial costs and benefits is a key step.

There are a range of financial metrics that can be used to achieve this (e.g. Simple Payback, Net Present Value (NPV) or Return on Investment (ROI)).

As a sustainability leader, you don’t need to become an expert in what these metrics are or how to use them (although a basic understanding helps). Rather you should draw on the expertise of your finance team who will help you calculate the financial costs and benefits of your idea, using the most appropriate measures.

When there aren’t any direct measurable financial benefits, it is still possible to make the financial case for an initiative by monetising the broader value associated with it (e.g. by estimating value of strategic partnerships, enhanced reputation, enhanced student experience and retention, etc.). Again, your finance colleagues may be able to help with this.

The final step of business case development involves the production of a written document, which is often accompanied by financial information and other supporting evidence.

The resulting business case document should contain the following key elements:

There are resources available to help people develop business cases, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Business cases should be unique to the context in which support is sought and, as such, the process of business case development is as important as the end result.

Finally, you should think of preparing a business case as an opportunity to sharpen your thoughts and maximise your chances of success, not as a burden and obstacle to overcome.