Papers in Brief (XVI): Schoormann et al. (2016): Sustainability in business models – A literature-based design-science-oriented research agenda

[Note: This is the 16th post in our “Papers in Brief” series. This series offers a special service as it explains the core ideas of chosen research papers in a nutshell.]

Papers in Brief (XVI) by Thorsten Schoormann

Schoormann, T.; Behrens, D.; Kolek, E. & Knackstedt, R. (2016): Sustainability in business models—A literature-based design-science-oriented research agenda, in Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS), Istanbul, Turkey,


Business models can be described in different ways, for example, textual like in business plans or in graphical frameworks such as the ‘business model canvas’ (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). In general, these frameworks support the design, development and evaluation of business models and, thus, should provide aspects related to sustainability. However, although some approaches consider sustainability, common guidelines are still missing. Here, Information Systems have potential to contribute by, for example, (a) the design of modelling techniques for creating consistent, comparable and analyzable business models as well as (b) the development of new (software)tools for supporting the collaborative development of such models.

In this paper, we explore “how can design principles, applied to current sustainable business model frameworks, contribute to our understanding of such models, support the modelling process, and enable the building of IT-tools to support those models?”

Therefore, a literature-based typology of principles is derived that supports the (re-)design of sustainable business model frameworks as well as gives orientation of approaches, which can be applied to ensure sustainability in business models and describes requirements that need to be supported (e.g., by tools).


During our literature search and analysis, we found an initial set of 1.684 articles (Google Scholar: 1.540; AISeL 144). Afterwards, we evaluated the results by analyzing titles, abstracts and keywords; non-relevant articles were eliminated. The remaining articles (143) were verified by reading the full text. Finally, we removed duplicates and added articles of other sources (forward and backward search). In total, we found 42 articles that met our research purpose.


Based on the analysis of these 42 articles, we derived different adaptations of graphical frameworks as well as (textual) principles for enforcing sustainability in business models. The findings are classified in a typology (see Figure 1). In this typology, supporting approaches for (a) the construction of business models, (b) adaptations of business model frameworks, and (c) business modelling techniques are presented.

The principles 2-7 can be applied to customize existing frameworks towards sustainable aspects, for example: adding new blocks (5) to visualize ‘environmental impacts’. Principle 1 summarizes concepts and strategies that support the (re-)design of a business model. Overall, these types and principles can be used to develop new (IT-)tools that support the representation of sustainability in business models.


Figure 1: Typology of principles and approaches for sustainable business models (source: Schoormann et al., 2016)

We identified insights and different graphical approaches, which address sustainability in business model frameworks. Nevertheless, the degree of completeness is not explored yet. Further literature can contain more approaches to enhance modelling techniques and frameworks. For example, domain-specific modelling techniques can be used with business models or detail models can be combined to provide more details (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Extension of the typology for sustainable business models (source: Schoormann et al., 2016)

However, it is important to evaluate all of these concepts and approaches that address sustainability in business model frameworks to clarify which approaches, for example, can be combined and used in particular domains as well as support efficient reading and constructing of these models. Due to the diversity of existing methods, a general framework is still required. Moreover, current approaches are often used separately. In our opinion the combination of these approaches may leverage the representation of sustainability in such models.


Schoormann, T.; Behrens, D.; Kolek, E. & Knackstedt, R. (2016): Sustainability in business models—a literature-based design-science-oriented research agenda, in Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS), Istanbul, Turkey.

Bocken, N. M. P., Rana, P., & Short, S. W. (2015). Value mapping for sustainable business thinking. Journal of Industrial and Production Engineering, 32(1), 67–81.

Gardetti, M. A., & Muthu, S. S. (2015). Sustainable apparel? Is the innovation in the business model? – The case of IOU Project. Textiles and Clothing Sustainability, 1(1).

Kamath, S. J., Lee, Y. J., & Zhang, X. T. (2013). Social enterprise models: creating the fortune at the base of the pyramid. International Journal of Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 2(3), 269.

Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2009). Business Model Concepts in Corporate Sustainability Contexts: From Rhetoric to a Generic Template for “Business Models for Sustainability.” SSRN Electronic Journal.

Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. 2010. Business model generation. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Sanderse, J. (2014). The business model canvas of NGOs. Retrieved from

Upward, A., & Jones, P. (2016). An Ontology for Strongly Sustainable Business Models: Defining an Enterprise Framework Compatible With Natural and Social Science. Organization & Environment, 29(1), 97–123.


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