Sustainable business model innovation: Design guidelines for integrating systems thinking principles in tools for early-stage sustainability assessment

Leonie Schlüter*, Lone Kørnøv, Lucia Mortensen, Søren Løkke, Kasper David Pedersen Storrs, Ivar Lyhne, Belinda Nors

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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The need to develop sustainable business models, which have a positive effect on environment and society, has received increasing attention in research and practice in the last years. Describing the sustainability of these business models, however, often takes place without robust assessments and without consideration for the wider system within which they are embedded. Early in the innovation process, in particular, a lack of quantitative data, time, and competencies presents an issue. At the same time, Systems Thinking has long been described as necessary for innovating business models for sustainability, but it has not been made clear how exactly Systems Thinking can be used early in the innovation process to assess the sustainability of a business model innovation. This article develops guidelines for embedding Systems Thinking principles into tools for sustainability assessment for use in the early stages of sustainable business model (SBM) innovation. It does so by exemplifying Systems Thinking principles in the context of SBM innovation and analysing their integration in three selected tools for early-stage sustainability assessment. The article shows how, by embedding Systems Thinking into tools for the SBM innovation process, unintended consequences and negative trade-offs can be reduced and the sustainability of the innovation better understood. Eight design guidelines are proposed for effectively using Systems Thinking in tools for early-stage sustainability assessment of SBMs: (1) Define scope of application, (2) Design for collaboration, (3) Integrate the principles “Interconnections”, (4) “Causal relations & feedback loops”, and (5) “System change & adaptation”, (6) Consider sustainability dimensions, (7) Ensure flexibility of integration, and (8) Ensure compatibility with other assessment tools.

Original languageEnglish
Article number135776
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2023

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  • Business model innovation
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Sustainable business model innovation
  • Systems thinking
  • Tool design


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