Boundary work for collaborative sustainable business model innovation: the journey of a Dutch SME

Myrthe Velter*, Verena Bitzer, Nancy Bocken, René Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


How does a small business engage in boundary work to innovate its business model towards sustainability? We employ a boundary work lens to trace the endeavors of a small company to explore, negotiate and (re)align organizational boundaries in its multi-stakeholder network around new, sustainable value propositions.
We engaged in longitudinal research of a company’s endeavors for multi-stakeholder alignment in sustainable business model innovation (SBMI). By means of thick description, this paper offers rich empirical insights on the processes of interaction between a small company and its stakeholders in the Dutch pork sector, with special attention to boundary spanners, boundary objects and the mutual organizational boundary changes. We find that the shaping and shifting of organizational boundaries highly influences the process and content of the business model innovation. During the phases of boundary exploration, brokering and boundary changes, there is a pivotal role for boundary objects to deal with
ncertainties, to facilitate strategic discussions and to find solutions to different valuation frames, power tensions and role divisions between stakeholders. SBMI can benefit from boundary work, as it helps companies to find value opportunities in the organizational boundaries of their external stakeholders, addressing challenges that emerge from existing organizational boundaries, and establishing boundary arrangements to facilitate this process. Boundary work interlinks concepts of identity, power, competences and efficiency in entrepreneurial processes of collaborative SBMI. The framework and methods of this study further our understanding of the co-evolutionary processes of SBMI.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-66
JournalJournal of Business Models
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Thick Description
  • Longitudinal Research
  • Boundary Work
  • Sustainable Business Model Innovation
  • Circular Business Model Innovation
  • Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration


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