Session Track 5

New business models for sustainable entrepreneurship

Chairs: Matthew Johnson, René Mauer, and Stefan Schaltegger

Sustainable entrepreneurship describes the processes of discovery, creation, exploitation and growth of business opportunities leading to sustainability-oriented innovations, value creation and sustainability transformation of markets and societies. From startups to large incumbents, entrepreneurial ventures can contribute to sustainable development via innovative value propositions and core business models aimed at the creative destruction of unsustainable production and consumption patterns (Schaltegger & Wagner, 2011). Sustainable entrepreneurs generate innovative business models, products and services that substantially improve environmental and social performance and overall quality of life, which often necessitates change at the institutional level as well (Pacheco et al., 2010).

Different pathways of sustainable entrepreneurship concentrate on the means-goals relationship. For example, sustainable entrepreneurs may use their given means and own ingenuity to develop business models in line with the theory of effectuation (Sarasvathy, 2001). As innovations are key to sustainable entrepreneurship, new designs like innovative business models, open innovation, stakeholder involvement (Fischer et al., in press), and co-creation become important areas for further research (Schaltegger, Hansen & Lüdeke-Freund, 2016). This goes along with the search for new innovative forms of ecopreneurship as well as social and sustainable entrepreneurship considering factors that make entrepreneurs successful in some industries and national markets whereas they do not or barely exist in other industries and markets.

Based on the classification of sustainable entrepreneurship, research is encouraged to identify processes, paths and factors of success towards achieving sustainable entrepreneurship. Research is also needed to further explore successful and unsuccessful practices and how sustainable entrepreneurship could be supported by innovative business models. While approaches like the planetary boundaries concept (Rockström et al., 2008) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can serve as inspiration and reference frameworks (e.g. Schaltegger, Beckmann, & Hockerts, 2018a, b; Fischer et al, 2017), the knowledge and application of certain tools (e.g. business model canvas, in Breuer et al., 2018) may be helpful to support the sustainable entrepreneurship development process.

Potential research topics and questions for this session (other topics are surely welcomed):

  • Entrepreneurship Processes in Business Model Context: How can business model frameworks map out sustainable entrepreneurship processes, pathways and success factors?
  • Entrepreneurship and Business Model Tools: How can the application of certain tools (e.g. business model canvas) support sustainable entrepreneurship processes leading to micro (i.e. business model) and macro-level (i.e. institutional) transformations?
  • Entrepreneurship encouraged by frameworks: How can frameworks such as the UN SDGs or the planetary boundary concept serve as reference for sustainable entrepreneurship? What advantages, benefits and problems go along with such entrepreneurial ventures and organizations?
  • Entrepreneurship Education: How can sustainable entrepreneurs be educated with the support of business model tools and what are the necessary skills and competencies to effectively use/implement them?
  • Entrepreneurship and Effectuation: How can effectuation aid entrepreneurs in tackling uncertain and complex problems found in many sustainability issues, such as toxic cleanup, circular economy and climate change? How is effectuation paired with innovative business models to lead towards transformative outcomes on both micro and macro levels?


Contact information:

Dr. Matthew Johnson
University of Hamburg
Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences



Breuer, H., Fichter, K., Lüdeke-Freund, F. and Tiemann, I. (2018), “Requirements for sustainability-oriented business model development”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing. Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 256-286.

Fischer, D.; Brettel, M.; Mauer, R. (in press): The Three Dimensions of Sustainability: A Delicate Balancing Act for Entrepreneurs Made More Complex by Stakeholder Expectations, Journal of Business Ethics,

Fischer, D.; Mauer, R.; Brettel, M. (2017): Regulatory Focus Theory and Sustainable Entrepreneurship, in: International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research,

Pacheco, D.F., Dean, T.J. and Payne, D.S., 2010), “Escaping the green prison: Entrepreneurship and the creation of opportunities for sustainable development”, Journal of Business Venturing, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 464-480.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin III, F.S., Lambin, E.F., Lenton, T.M., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., Schellnhuber, H.J. and Nykvist, B. (2009), “A safe operating space for humanity”, Nature, Vol. 461, No. 7263, p.472.

Sarasvathy, S.D. (2001), “Causation and effectuation: Toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 243-263.

Schaltegger, S., Beckmann, M. and Hockerts, K. (2018a), “Sustainable entrepreneurship: creating environmental solutions in light of planetary boundaries”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 1-16.

Schaltegger, S., Beckmann, M. and Hockerts, K. (2018b), “Collaborative entrepreneurship for sustainability. Creating solutions in light of the UN sustainable development goals”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 131-152.

Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E. and Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016), “Business models for sustainability. A co-evolutionary analysis of sustainable entrepreneurship, innovation and transformation”, Organization & Environment, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 264-289.

Schaltegger, S. and Wagner, M. (2011), “Sustainable entrepreneurship and sustainability innovation. Categories and interactions”, Business Strategy and the Environment, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 222-237.