Summary

Corporate sustainability has left its academic niche and has become an integral part of today’s business world. While companies around the globe are trying to position themselves as economically competitive and at the same time as ecologically and socially sound, for example through more efficient production processes or increasing product responsibility, some pioneers are looking at new and more fundamental ways to meet sustainability challenges by transforming their current business models or developing new, sustainable business models. Finding good answers to whether and how sustainable business models really act as business models for sustainability, i.e. whether they effectively contribute to sustainable development, is not just a matter of business model design but also of performance assessment and management. However, appropriate approaches for the assessment of sustainability effects of business models have so far not been investigated or developed.

A widely accepted framework for the disclosure of corporate sustainability performance has been developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). It offers an extensive compilation of sustainability aspects which can be used as a framework for corporate sustainability reporting in any industry. G4 can be considered the most comprehensive and accepted indicator compilation for sustainability aspects and can be used as an approximation to a rigorous list of relevant sustainability aspects. Whereas the common default unit for performance assessment and reporting according to the GRI framework is the whole organization, or larger sub-units, it is yet unclear whether this framework can also be used to assess and report on an organization’s sustainability performance on the level of its business model(s). The question whether the GRI framework is also suitable to assess the sustainability performance of business models has so far not been addressed and is thus the research question of this conceptual paper. The GRI G4 Implementation Manual provides guidance on setting corporate system boundaries to define the unit of reporting. This procedure will be compared to business model frameworks in order to analyse commonalities, differences and implications for the applicability of the GRI framework for the assessment of sustainability effects of business models.

Keywords

Business model, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), business model assessment, sustainability assessment, sustainability reporting, conceptual framework

Reference

Lüdeke-Freund, F.; Saviuc, I.; Schaltegger, S. & Stock, M. (2015): Assessing the Sustainability Performance of Business Models – Usefulness and Applicability of the GRI Framework, EMAN Conference 2015 “Sustainability Accounting for Innovation Management”, 25-27 March, San Sebastian, Spain. (ISBN 978-84-606-6348-5)

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