Based on the present literature and what we learned from the authors and reviewers of our Organization & Environment special issue on “Business Models for Sustainability: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Transformation”, we propose the following definition of a business model for sustainability (BMfS):
“A business model for sustainability helps describing, analyzing, managing, and communicating (i) a company’s sustainable value proposition to its customers, and all other stakeholders, (ii) how it creates and delivers this value, (iii) and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social, and economic capital beyond its organizational boundaries.” (Schaltegger et al., 2016, p. 6)
This definition highlights the abstract and conceptual characteristics of business models, which were also highlighted in the initial and still very influential definition by Osterwalder, Pigneur and Tucci (2005), as well as the need to integrate multiple stakeholders and their diverse value conceptions. Earlier approaches to defining BMfS are summarised here.
A center piece of this definition is the idea of a sustainable value proposition. To define this major element of a BMfS we can refer to the work of Patala, Jalkala, Keränen, Väisänen, Tuominen and Soukka:
“We define sustainable value propositions as a promise on the economic, environmental and social benefits that a firm’s offering delivers to customers and society at large, considering both short-term profits and long-term sustainability.” (Patala et al., 2016, p. 1)
Osterwalder, A.; Pigneur, Y. & Tucci, C. L. (2005): Clarifying business models: Origins, present, and future of the concept, Communications of the Association for Information Systems, Vol. 16, Article 1.
Patala, S.; Jalkala, A.; Keränen, J.; Väisänen, S.; Tuominen, V. & Soukka, R. (2016): Sustainable value propositions: Framework and implications for technology suppliers, Industrial Marketing Management, online first (2 April 2016).
Schaltegger, S.; Hansen, E. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016): Business Models for Sustainability: Origins, Present Research, and Future Avenues (Editorial), Organization & Environment, Vol. 29, No. 1, 3-10.