This dissertation deals with the relationships between the increasingly discussed business model notion, sustainability innovation, and the business case for sustainability concept. The main purpose of this research is to identify and define the so far insufficiently studied theoretical interrelations between these concepts. To this end, according theoretical foundations are developed and combined with empirical studies on selected aspects of the solar photovoltaic industry. This industry is particularly suitable for research on sustainability innovation and business models because of its increasing maturity paired with public policy and market dynamics that lead to a variety of business model-related managerial and entrepreneurial business case challenges. The overarching research question is: How can business models support the commercialisation of sustainability innovations and thus contribute to business cases for sustainability?

A theoretical and conceptual foundation is developed based on a systematic literature review on the role of business models in the context of technological, organisational, and social sustainability innovation. Further, the importance of business model innovation is discussed and linked to sustainability strategies and the business case for sustainability concept. These theoretical foundations are applied in an in-depth case study on BP Solar, the former solar photovoltaic subsidiary of British Petroleum. Moreover, because supportive public policies and the availability of financial capital are known to be the most important preconditions for commercial success with innovations such as solar photovoltaic technologies, the solar studies include a comparative multiple-case study on the public policies of China, Germany, and the USA as well as a conjoint experiment to explore debt capital investors’ preferences for different types of photovoltaic projects and business models.

As a result, the main contribution of this work is the business models for sustainability innovation (BMfSI) framework. This framework is based on the idea that the business model is an artificial and social construct that fulfils different functions resulting from social interaction and their deliberate construction. The BMfSI framework emphasises the so-called mediating function, i.e. the iterative alignment of business model elements with company-internal and external requirements as well as with the specific characteristics of environmentally and socially beneficial innovations. Against this backdrop, it becomes clear that practically-oriented knowledge based on BMfSI research might provide new and effective ways to support the achievement of corporate sustainability.


Business model, sustainability innovation, business case for sustainability, business model for sustainability, framework, solar power, public policy, financing


Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): Business Models for Sustainability Innovation: Conceptual Foundations and the Case of Solar Energy. PhD Thesis. Lüneburg: Leuphana University.

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