Managing tensions in sustainable business models: Exploring instrumental and integrative strategies

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Abstract

This study empirically examines tensions around business model innovations for sustainability and the strategies that organizations employ to manage these tensions. A central conjecture of the study is that in order to successfully manage sustainable business models, firms need to confront sustainability's oftentimes paradoxical tensions. The research examined 30 firms that had sought to make business model innovations for sustainability; the results suggest that one group of organizations was shy of embracing these tensions and relied primarily on an instrumental or narrow ‘business case’ approach, viewing sustainability as an “either/or” scenario. However, another group of firms was aiming to work through these tensions by utilizing more paradoxical or integrative strategies, thus aiming for a “both/and” scenario. This group found it easier to manage their sustainable business models. The results highlight how applying the lens of paradox can help organizations to make sense of the complexity of sustainability; paradoxical thinking can help to reduce tensions, ambiguity and uncertainty and improve the management of complex sustainability challenges. In addition to their practical relevance, the findings have implications for both the literature on sustainable business models and the emerging paradox perspective on corporate sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-841
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume196
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2018

Keywords

  • Business case
  • Corporate sustainability
  • Instrumental approach
  • Integrative approach
  • Paradox
  • Sustainable business models
  • Tensions

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