Call for Papers for a Special Issue on “Business Models for Sustainability: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transformation”

Today, Organization & Environment (O&E), a leading international sustainability journal with an emphasis on the connection between the management of organizations and environment, published a Call for Papers for a Special Issue on “Business Models for Sustainability: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transformation”. O&E is published in association with Group of Research on Organizations and Natural Environment (GRONEN).


Call for Papers for a Special Issue of
Organization & Environment (O&E)

“Business Models for Sustainability:
Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transformation”

Guest Editors
Stefan Schaltegger, Erik G. Hansen, Florian Lüdeke-Freund
Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM), Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany

Deadline: 7th February 2014


The latest global economic and financial crises have raised fundamental questions about the impacts of existing corporate business models on the sustainability of the global economy and society. Various international organizations and researchers thus call for reconsidering possible contributions of companies to sustainable development (e.g. UNIDO, 2013; WBCSD, 2012). Sustainable development was defined more than twenty-five years ago as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). On the organizational level the vision of sustainable development has led to concepts such as sustainability management (Starik & Kanashiro, 2013), corporate sustainability (Dyllick & Hockerts, 2002; Schaltegger & Burritt, 2005), sustainability innovation and “sustainable entrepreneurship” (Schaltegger & Wagner, 2011), or social business (Yunus et al., 2010) , topics also explored in several Organization & Environment (O&E) articles since 1987 (e.g. Levy, 1997; Montiel, 2008; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008) and being the focus of O&E’s current editorial reorientation (Aragon-Correa, 2013; Starik, 2013).

Sustainability management refers to approaches dealing with social, environmental and economic issues in an integrated manner to transform organizations in a way that they contribute to a sustainable development of the economy and society within the limits of the ecosystem (e.g. Schaltegger & Burritt, 2005; Starik & Kanashiro, 2013). Today, leaders, managers and entrepreneurs are challenged to contribute to sustainable development on the individual, organizational and societal level. Obviously, common approaches of technological, process, and product innovation – often understood as “technological fix” – are insufficient to create the required transformation of organizations, industries and societies towards more sustainability. Scholars and practitioners are therefore increasingly exploring if and how modified and completely new business models can help maintain or even increase economic prosperity by either radically reducing negative or creating positive external effects for the natural environment and society (e.g. Boons & Lüdeke-Freund, 2013; Hansen et al., 2009; Schaltegger et al., 2012; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008). This perspective does not only cover existing organizations and how their business models are transformed (e.g. Sommer, 2012), but also entirely new business models pioneered by entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs (Hockerts & Wüstenhagen, 2010).

What is a business model?

Early business model concepts emerged at the end of the twentieth century, motivated by the need to describe and analyze new forms of business (e.g. e-businesses or virtual organizations; e.g. Timmers, 1998; Mahadevan, 2000). The notion received attention as a general management concept through publications of Chesbrough and Magretta (e.g. Chesbrough & Rosenbloom, 2002; Magretta, 2002), for example, who linked the business model approach to strategy and innovation. Since then, business model research has produced various approaches such as reflected in Teece’s (2010) definition emphasizing value-related functions: “A business model describes the design or architecture of the value creation, delivery and capture mechanisms employed. The essence of a business model is that it crystallizes customer needs and ability to pay, defines the manner by which the business enterprise responds to and delivers value to customers, entices customers to pay for value, and converts those payments to profit through the proper design and operation of the various elements of the value chain.” (Teece, 2010, p. 179; emphasis added). A detailed definition of business models focusing on design elements of value-related functions has been proposed by Osterwalder and colleagues with their business model “ontology” or later “canvas“ (Osterwalder et al., 2005; Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010).

The business model concept “draws from and integrates a variety of academic and functional disciplines” (Chesbrough & Rosenbloom, 2002, p. 533). Research in sustainability management has a similar interdisciplinary character (Aragon-Correa, 2013; Starik, 2013; Starik & Kanashiro, 2013). In this sense, the business model is an excellent unit of analysis for studying and advancing common managerial and entrepreneurial approaches as well as stimulating and revitalizing new and old organizational philosophies.

Early advances towards business models for sustainability

Early work on business models for sustainability (BMfS; also referred to as “sustainable business models” or “sustainability business models”) deals with the organizational roots of models that contribute to corporate sustainability (see Stubbs and Cocklin’s 2008 seminal article in O&E). BMfS are also seen as means to overcome the technology bias and to innovate at the level of the use-system or “function” with product-service systems such as car-sharing (Hansen et al., 2009). More recent studies are dedicated to specific technologies or industries (e.g. Jupesta et al., 2011; Loock, 2012).

Others investigate the link between business models and business cases to advance sustainability management: e.g., while incremental improvements of processes can be implemented within the existing business model, more radical transformations may require changes of its components or the entire business model (Schaltegger et al., 2012).

Boons and Lüdeke-Freund (2013), based on an in-depth literature review, propose basic normative requirements for each of the constituting elements of business models: the value proposition must provide both ecological/social and economic value through offering products and services, the infrastructure must be rooted in principles of sustainable supply chain management, the customer interface must enable close relationships with customers and other stakeholders to be able to take responsibility for and manage broader production and consumption systems (instead of simply selling stuff) and the financial model should distribute economic costs and benefits among actors involved.

While existent research is often rooted in ecological sustainability, other scholars see business models as tools for addressing social needs. For example, Seelos and Mair (2007) examine entrepreneurial approaches to improving health care services and mobile communication infrastructure in poor regions, and Sánchez and Ricart (2010) develop a typology of “isolated” and “interactive” business models operating in low-income markets, clearly going beyond business-as-usual, both in terms of the empirical phenomenon investigated and the theoretical and methodical approaches applied.

Organizations with BMfS often operate under multiple, sometimes competing institutional rationales, either market, political, regional, family, or religious (e.g. Friedland & Alford, 1991). As ’hybrid organizations‘ (Boyd et al., 2009; Haigh & Hoffmann, 2012) or ‘b corporations’ (B lab, 2012) they combine a market rationale with an ecological, social or sustainable development rationale.. Such organizations have also been studied from the perspective of ‘ecopreneurship’ or ’sustainable entrepreneurship‘ (Hall et al., 2010; Hockerts & Wüstenhagen, 2010; Schaltegger & Wagner, 2011) which offers strong links to business model research.

The business model perspective is particularly interesting, because it also covers (changes to) the financial logic of the firm or organization and thus also allows for (and calls for) new governance forms such as cooperatives, public private partnerships, or social businesses, thus transcending the narrower for profit (and particularly profit maximization) models. For example, the German cooperative GLS Bank runs a sustainable banking business model by using their clients’ savings to offer low-interest loans for ecologic and social projects (Schneeweiss, 2012).

Overall, the phenomenological, theoretical and methodical approaches of discovering and understanding BMfS are still in their infancy. This special issue therefore aims at compiling the state of the art of BMfS and at offering future perspectives for this research field, thereby contributing to O&E’s mission to advance the research field of sustainability management. Conceptual and empirical (single and comparative multi-case studies, qualitative, quantitative) papers are sought. We are particularly interested in works which use a theoretical perspective to better explain the nature of BMfS (i.e. the business model is the unit of analysis and not a theory itself). Contributions can address but are not limited to the following topical areas.

Topical Areas

1. Theoretical advances furthering the understanding of why and how BMfS are created or transformed:

  • What can be understood by a BMfS from different theoretical perspectives? How can BMfS be characterized and distinguished? What kind of organizations, including hybrid organizations operating under multiple (sometimes conflicting) institutional logics, have developed BMfS and which theories can explain differences between organizations? How can case studies on completely new business model designs developed by entrepreneurs, managers and/or non-business actors be theorized?
  • Which theories help explaining the existence, creation or transformation of BMfS? Corporate contributions to sustainability can be analyzed with instrumental, societal, political and normative theories (cf. Garriga & Mele, 2004). How do strategic management or other instrumental theories explain the profitability or business case of BMfS? How do (neo)institutional, legitimacy and resource-dependency theories explain the existence and transformation of BMfS? To which degree are ethical values and societal norms (e.g. of mission-driven entrepreneurs; family businesses, etc.) drivers or elements for developing BMfS? How do normative theories such as ecological modernization link to BMfS?
  • Which actors engage in creating and transforming BMfS? How can theories used in the sustainable and social entrepreneurship literature explain how pioneering entrepreneurial firms (and their owners) introduce breakthrough innovations with BMfS (e.g. car-sharing instead of car sales, local production instead of global supply chains, biodegradable products or close-loop systems instead of waste, renewable resources and energy instead of fossil fuels)?
  • How can theories on the organizational level (e.g. dynamic capabilities, ambidextrous organization, and disruptive innovation), individual level (e.g. responsible leadership) or both (e.g. structuration theory, organizational learning, organizational change, and organizational culture) explain the transformation of business models of established firms into BMfS? What are the dynamics and characteristics of and the methods involved in the (strategic) business model innovation and transformation process? Is this based on “planned” or “emergent” strategies? Of particular interest are longitudinal case analyses (both single and multiple) of this transformation process.
  • How do BMfS co-evolve leading to industry transformation both via market interaction alone (e.g. Hockerts & Wüstenhagen, 2010) or through broader socio-technical transition (e.g. Geels & Schott, 2007)? Which learning-action networks, co-operative arrangements, strategic partnerships or political power struggles between stakeholder groups are involved in the creation/transformation of BMfS within or across sectors?

2. Studies further exploring various aspects of BMfS and their implementation:

  • How do BMfS enable the integrated vision of sustainable development, i.e. the simultaneous advancement of ecological and social spheres (e.g. recycling/refurbishing facilities operated by needy or disabled people; organic and fair-traded products; renewable energy production is socially sound and inclusive; micro-financing business models facilitate only ecological sound projects)?
  • Sustainability often fails because of low profitability in the short term or because profits are perceived as insufficient in comparison to other opportunities. What is the role of financial models, revenue logics, and the organization’s legal structure for the success of BMfS (e.g. public listed firms vs. family firms, cooperatives, and social businesses)?
  • Which corporate sustainability practices are made possible or advanced through BMfS on the level of processes (e.g. industrial symbiosis; local/regional production; social inclusion) products (e.g. product-service systems/servitization, product sharing), consumption (e.g. sufficient or post-materialistic lifestyles) or the overarching value chain (e.g. closed-loop supply chains)?
  • Which management tools and methods enable the management of or transition to BMfS? For instance, which tools support innovation (e.g. design thinking, natural step framework, biomimicry) and strategy implementation (e.g. Business Model Canvas) for BMfS, and how can performance and societal impacts of entire BMfS be managed, or even measured (e.g. Sustainability Balanced Scorecard)?
  • How do BMfS extend established business model concepts like Osterwalder and Pigneur’s (2010) “Business Model Canvas” or Johnson’s (2010) “Four Box Business Model”?

Coverage and Audience

This special issue seeks to compile a set of high-quality research papers that address the aforementioned and further topics from theoretical and empirical (both qualitative and quantitative) perspectives. The aim is to compile the current state of the art and practice, to explore productive paths of research and to show theoretical and methodological approaches to explain and further develop BMfS.

Proposed contributions must include either a theoretically rigorous or empirically proven business model definition and/or conceptualization, including formal and/or visual definitions and representations. The applied business model concept must be clearly connected to the addressed sustainability challenge (e.g. environmental or social issues, cultural or other societal challenges).

This call is also trying to recognize and identify previous related literature in order to provide a background for extending our theoretical understanding of this complex issue. Authors submitting manuscripts to this call are strongly encouraged to consider utilizing any and all appropriate journal citations, including those related to articles in recent issues of Organizations & Environment.

This Call for Papers invites manuscripts providing novel insights and inspiration for research in business models for sustainability and should also explicate implications for practitioners – particularly corporate managers, but may also address NGOs, international organizations and governments. Academics and practitioners shall benefit from new research approaches and gain insight into innovative corporate practices. Public policy makers and stakeholders like NGOs might find a new perspective on the interrelations between business and sustainable development. We also welcome joint papers by academics and practitioners.

Submission procedure
Full papers are invited to be considered for publication in the journal special issue.

  • All submissions must follow the editorial guidelines of Organization & Environment which can be obtained from the journal website (
  • Papers should not exceed 40 pages in length (double spaced, one-inch margins, Times New Roman 12-point font, including references, figures and tables).
  • Papers should be submitted via the electronic manuscript submission system under (please indicate the special issue in the system)

Tentative Schedule
The following schedule is planned:

  • Submission of papers:     7th February 2014
  • Review deadline:     11th April 2014
  • Initial decisions made and authors informed:     9th May 2014
  • Deadline for revisions for journal:     25th July 2014
  • Final decisions made:     15th October 2014
  • Publication of special edition of journal:     2015

Editors and Contact Information
Inquiries about the special issue and ideas for papers should be made through the guest editors:

Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM), Leuphana University Lüneburg
Scharnhorststr. 1, D-21335 Lüneburg, Germany


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One comment

  1. Great news.
    I’ll look to submit my work.

    Cheers from Montreal,


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