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Call for Proposals: Sustainable Business Models

A Call for Proposals for a Review and Synthesis of Research & Practice on Sustainable Business Models

The Network for Business Sustainability South Africa invites proposals for a research project that will be completed in 2015. The project will answer the following question:

How are innovative business models creating shared value?

This question was identified by NBS-SA’s Leadership Council as one of the top sustainability challenges facing South African business. Read more about the report.

Project Description

What are the leading examples of novel business models that create shared value and what do they have in common? How can businesses learn from the experiences of those at the vanguard of sustainable business model innovation?

The notion of shared value suggests that financial returns can indeed be aligned with social progress and environmental sustainability. But no clear guidance yet exists for companies seeking to adapt their business models towards more inclusive value creation, delivering and capturing benefits across financial, social and environmental domains.

Porter and Kramer suggest that such shared value creation can take place through developing new products or services, enhancing efficiencies in the supply chain, or enabling local cluster development. Sometimes such efforts can rely on incremental or minor changes to existing approaches, as in improving energy efficiency. More fundamental shifts, however, require proactive redesign of the entire business model, which determines the activities that turn the firm’s inputs into valuable outputs for the firm and its stakeholders. We are therefore focusing attention with this call in particular on what the NBS systematic review on innovation for sustainability calls “organisational transformation” and “systems change”.

Such sustainability-oriented business model innovation has received significant attention. Prominent examples of companies such as Interface have captured the public’s imagination, illustrating the power of reconceiving not just products and processes, but more fundamental aspects of the firm’s identity and purpose.

Business model innovation is also a key feature of successful social entrepreneurs, such as Waste Concern in Bangladesh, which shows how creative connections between seemingly insurmountable challenges can produce significant social and environmental impacts and generate income. It is clear that much creativity and entrepreneurial capacity is required for business model innovation, whether in incumbent firms like Interface or social enterprises like Waste Concern.

Scholarship also has much to offer here. For instance, researchers focusing on the broader theme of business model innovation have investigated the tensions between creating value and capturing it for the firm.

However, much remains to be done to translate this existing research into practical guidance for business leaders wondering about the risks and opportunities of sustainability-oriented business model innovation, and how it might be approached in diverse contexts. There is also much scope for more considered analyses of successful instances of such innovation.

These related questions may help research teams scope their potential project. The final project scope will be refined and finalised through discussion between the successful research team and the Guidance Committee.


Funding for the project is 280,000 South African Rand (ZAR) or approximately $25,000.


Proposals are due January 7, 2015.

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