Sustainable urban development is a wicked problem. On the basis of three case studies, we conclude that institutional entrepreneurs play an important role in sustainable urban development. The question we address is how institutional entrepreneurs do this. We theorize and find six tactics that entrepreneurs employ to influence both formal and informal institutions to create a favourable institutional context for sustainable development. We do so by combining insights from both institutional theory and institutional economics. Through framing and theorizing institutional entrepreneurs create new visions on sustainable urban developments, whereas collaboration and lobbying are important for the realization of the projects. The study adds new insights into how negotiation (private governance contracts, property rights) and standardization (certification, standards) form a key to altering incentive schemes and to create a competitive advantage. Through the joint changes in both informal institutions and the formal institutions the entrepreneurs are able to change the institutional context in which projects are embedded, thereby increasing the feasibility of their projects. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.