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Reports 12 Feb 2014

Model Behavior

20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability

By Lindsay Clinton and Ryan Whisnant

The idea of business model innovation — that a company could launch a new business model never conceived of before, or transform an existing business model — has long captivated business leaders. Yet, executives are often held back by vested interests in their current approach: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But as global trends — environmental, social, political, technological — continue to shift the foundations of our current business models, incremental innovation will become less effective in enabling companies, industries and whole economies to adapt and succeed. There is an urgent need for fundamentally different approaches to value creation.

Model Behavior explores the role and practice of business model innovation in the context of sustainability.

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SustainAbility has long recognized and advocated the need for fundamental shifts in business practice, including in business models, both to drive necessary progress toward, and to unlock business value from sustainability. Such shifts are all the more urgent and relevant today, given slow progress on sustainable development broadly and accelerating innovation and disruption (both positive and negative) already playing out in many industries.

That is the basis for this report, exploring the role and practice of business model innovation in the context of sustainability. In it, we break down the innovative models we’re seeing, trying to better understand their origins, mechanics and implications. In doing so, we hope to induce more focused conversation about business model innovation, going beyond merely marveling at each new car-sharing company or crowdfunding site, and delving deeper into how such innovation comes about, and how we can catalyze more of it.

This report aims to help by offering inspiration and reflection, by raising issues and questions for further exploration, and by providing a framework for ongoing discussion. It grows out of SustainAbility’s past work on social entrepreneurship and innovation (supported by the Skoll Foundation and others) and on the evolving role of the private sector in sustainable development (via our 2012 Regeneration Roadmap project and its final report, Changing Tack), and responds to the growing emphasis on systems change and collaboration as key enablers of a sustainable future.

More materials

Model Behavior: Infographic

Infographic showing the 20 business models featured in the report.

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