Sustainable business model experimentation by understanding ecologies of business models

Nancy Bocken*, Frank Boons, Brian Baldassarre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Sustainable business model innovation is about creating superior customer and firm value by addressing societal and environmental needs through the way business is done. Business models require intentional design if they are to deliver aspired sustainability impacts. Scant research has been done on 'ecologies' of different business models in order to understand and improve these and create positive impact on the environment, society, economy and other key stakeholders. Hence, in this paper a novel framework is presented to enable a systemic form of sustainable business model experimentation. The framework is based on the recognition of three key issues which have not yet been sufficiently incorporated in the literature on sustainable business models: construct clarity, boundary setting and uncertainty about outcomes. These concepts are discussed first. Building on earlier work, the resulting framework incorporates potential side-effects and boundary setting based on the concept of an 'ecology of business models'. Second, an approach is proposed that could stimulate more profound forms of sustainable business model innovation: The Ecology of Business Models Experimentation map. Third, the approach is illustrated through two cases. The approach could help minimise symbiotic dependency on less sustainable business models; help destroy unsustainable business models by outcompeting them; and maximise contributions to favourable institutional infrastructures for more sustainable business models. This paper contributes to research on sustainable business model innovation, design and experimentation by providing a potential approach for 'business model ecology redesign'. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1498-1512
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Sustainable business models
  • Business model for sustainability
  • Experimentation
  • Collaboration
  • Business model design
  • Sharing economy
  • TOOL


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