3626 Business Model Resilience in the context of corporate sustainability transformation

Alexandra Palzkill , Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Wuppertal, Germany
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  • Justification of the paper:

    The transition to sustainability will not work without a comprehensive change of production and consumption patterns. These changes are essentially triggered by corporate strategies (e.g. Sommer 2012; Stubbs/Cocklin 2008). Sustainable business models can be caused by transitions at different corporate levels and the paper will discuss the major challenges for the implementing pioneers.  For transformative companies the preservation of their basic structure and their fundamental identity is particularly important to ensure the long-term success. In the this paper will be developed as a concept to describe the transformative capacity of companies within an existing market and competitive environment.


    Considering that the necessary changes may be wide-ranging and substantial, the major challenge is to identify “resilient” transformation strategies for corporate business models.

    Theoretical framework:

    In socio-ecological research Resilience generally means the capacity of a system to adapt itself to processes of change and to shape these processes at the same time without compromising the structure and identity of the system itself (Holling 1973; Walker et al. 2004).

    Similarly, Business Modell Resilience can be understood as the ability of companies to adapt their business models in the face of external pressure (e.g. market pressure), without losing their identity built on its core business model or its brand.

    To analyze such resilient business model transformations towards sustainability, the  Multi-level-Perspective on sustainability transitions (MLP)(Geels 2002; Grin et al. 2010) will be adapted, in order to conceptualize companies’ scope of action in existing unsustainable structures.  


    The hypothesis is that business models are not indefinitely flexible, but in most cases more resilient than assumed. It is proposed in this paper, that the scope of action for companies to change their corporate strategies towards sustainability should be discussed under the broader framing of business model resilience. However, an empirical basis is needed, in order to classify different types of business model transformation and draw conclusions with regard to their resilience. Exemplified by the fast-food industry the paper will develop such an empirical framework.


    A Resilience approach has not been applied to the study of companies and their business models, yet. However, joining the resilience approach and the MLP together could be useful to better understand companies’ scope of action for self-directed transformation processes within established regimes and, more generally, it might provide new insights for strategic management research.

    Geels, F. W: Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research Policy 31, Nr. 8-9 (2002): 1257–1274.

    Grin, J. et al.: Transitions to sustainable development : new directions in the study of long term transformative change. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Holling, C S.: Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4, Nr. 1 (1973): 1–23.

    Sommer, A.: Managing Green Business Model Transformations. Dissertation. Springer Verlag, 2012.

    Stubbs, W.; Cocklin, C.: Conceptualizing a ‚Sustainability Business Model‘“. Organization & Environment 21, Nr. 2 (2008): 103–127

    Walker, B. et al.: Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-ecological Systems. Ecology and Society 9(2), Nr. 5 (2004).