A Boundary Tool for Multi-stakeholder Sustainable Business Model Innovation

M.G.E. Velter*, V. Bitzer, N.M.P. Bocken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Sustainable business model innovation cannot reach its full sustainability potential if it neglects the importance of multi-stakeholder alignment. Several studies emphasize the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to enable sustainable business model innovation, but few studies offer guidance to companies for engaging in such a collaborative process. Based on the concept of boundary work, this study presents a tested process tool that helps companies engage with multiple stakeholders to innovate sustainable business models. The tool was developed in three iterative phases, including testing and evaluation with 74 participants in six sustainable business model innovation cases. The final process tool consists of five steps to facilitate multi-stakeholder alignment for sustainable business model innovation: (1) defining a collective ambition, (2) mapping and negotiating the changing organizational boundaries, (3) exploring opportunities and tensions for aligning stakeholders, (4) defining first interventions and (5) developing a collaboration pitch. We found that the tool enables discussions and negotiations on sensitive topics, such as power reconfigurations and mutual responsibilities to help stakeholders align. For companies, the boundary tool enriches sustainable business model innovation by offering guidance in the process of redesigning their multi-stakeholder system, assessing their own organizational boundaries, exploring, negotiating and prioritizing strategic actions based on organizational boundary changes and kick-starting new partnerships.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCircular Economy and Sustainability
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Sep 2021


  • process tool
  • boundary work
  • sustainable business model innovation
  • circular business model innovation
  • multi-stakeholder collaboration

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