Strategy is the most common organizational design element covered among the sample of papers (accounting for the 19 references in the final sample, see Table 2
) and is described in this section from two different views. The first view looks at the discourse’s distance from the strategy formulation to the strategic implementation (related to the tactics at business level). In this sense, the contributions of the sample are divided among those that contribute with strategy at a high decision level on the company (“where we are, where we go”); those that present tools for managers (“if we know where we go, we need to decide how”); and those that propose tactics (that is, implementation plans, “what do we do, in our current setting, so that we can match these requirements”). Secondly, the contributions are grouped according to the type of business on which they focus (circular economy, social economy, service economy or general business type).
In terms of high-level strategy, the first two papers of the sample share the same view. On one hand, Borland [45
] established that corporates are only one facet of sustainability: governments and consumers should also take part on it. On the other hand, Nidumolu et al. [47
] posited, in their seminal paper from Harvard Business Review
(cited 2050 times as of July 2019), that companies should get rid of the traditional paradigm linking the introduction of sustainability with an increase in costs. Contrarily, the implementation of sustainability via innovative products and processes should be understood as a competitive advantage for companies.
We consider authors contributing to the strategy of companies discourse at an intermediate level to those who struggle to settle frameworks that can be used to plan actions at different sub-systems (departments) of the company. In our opinion, this is where tools such as the business model canvas [26
] play a role. Four of the 19 papers deal with strategy at this level. Two of them [61
] anchor on the model proposed by Osterwalder and Pigneur [26
]. Lewandowski [62
] adapted the business model canvas to be used for the circular economy by adding two new factors to the business model canvas. Similarly, Joyce and Paquin [61
] proposed incorporating two more layers to the business model canvas. The first layer accounts for the environmental life cycle of products, while the second stands for social stakeholders’ interests.
Girotra and Netessine [48
] presented a new conceptual model that facilitates identifying how to innovate on a sustainable manner the business model, highlighting four elements of the decision context: what decisions are made, when they are made, who makes them, and why they are made. Contrarily, Zollo et al. [49
] presented a framework for solving sustainability challenges of companies. They highlighted the importance of change initiative, which they linked with the strategic and organizational process through the presented framework.
Finally, the remaining 13 papers in the sample deal with concrete, detailed implementation ways of sustainable business models, where the company is usually taken as a unit of analysis. Attempts have been made to propose business archetypes and taxonomies [14
], firstly for any business type, and secondly, for the circular economy. The contribution form Bocken, Rana and Short [43
] is aligned with this taxonomy strategy in the sense that it deepens it with a “how to do” approach with a value mapping tool.
Educational approaches appear in Bocken and Short [51
] and Geissdoerfer et al. [52
], focused on sufficiency-based tactic for business, in which clients should not be driven to over-consume, but to buy responsibly [51
], and on how to disseminate the generated knowledge that they implement through a workshop, based on design thinking [52
]. The recent literature review presented by Geissdoerfer, Vladimirova, and Evans [10
] focused on sustainable business model innovation. In a sense, it summarizes much of the work conducted by Bocken and her collaborators over the last five years, highlighting which strategies are to be used in order for business model innovation to be implemented for sustainability.
Other authors identified implementation measures that can be generalized, based on the reports produced by Global Reporting Initiative [53
], in a product–service system [54
], in hybrid organizations [55
], along the life cycle of the company [56
], or for the circular economy [17
Regarding the second classification, most of the papers (13) draw on sustainability for any type of business. However, a growing number of papers (four) spring from the circular economy literature ([17
]), one from the social economy [55
], and one from the body of knowledge of servitization [54
The structure feature was found in only five references of the final sample. In four of them, operational concerns are risen in terms of designing for sustainability [49
]. Both Reim et al. [54
] and Jablonski [55
] identified the need for network structures to support the sustainable business model and its multiple stakeholders. Jablonski and Jablonski [56
] explored the implications of a structure that enables value creation along the sustainable business model cycle, which should also consider the possible business model transformations over time.
Taking a different view, Zollo et al. [49
] argued that the structure and systems of governance to coordinate and control the organization are necessary to organize processes and are components of the organizational adaptive capacity of business model innovation. On the other hand, Girotra and Netessine [48
] dealt with who holds responsibility for decision-making in the company.
In all cases, structure is an organizational design element that enables internal and external value creation through the value network and connects stakeholders from within and outside the firm boundaries.
The third most common feature in the sample is process, which can be found in 11 out the 19 references. Seven of these 11 papers propose different ways of organizing the processes within the company [49
], either by changing operational practices [54
], highlighting resource efficiency [57
], closing resource loops [50
], including key processes as a way of evaluating the business model [61
], or using design thinking as a company tool [52
Bocken, Short, and Rana [14
] and Girotra and Netessine [48
] both related how information flows in the company, while Moreno et al. [58
] called for the implementation of an iterative process within the company for tuning the outcomes in terms of sustainability, and Bocken, Short, and Rana [43
] highlighted the importance of marketing in the process.
The second most common feature of organizational design on the sample is people, which is accounted for in 14 references. When coding the references, those factors affecting the stakeholders have been included under the people tag. Although this was not meant with the original model, authors believe that organizational design for sustainable organizations should account for them. The rationale of the discussion of results relating to this topic can be seen in Figure 8
First, the original intended meaning of people in the Star Model will be discussed and understood as an internal feature of the company, related mainly to the topics of leadership and the motivation of employees, among others, which is accounted for in five papers. In this vein, Borland [45
] paid particular attention to the importance of strong leadership for sustainability implementation, which aligns with the conclusions of Duran-Encalada and Paucar-Cáceres [53
], who viewed leadership as one of the relevant indicators of the quality of human factor in the company. On the other hand, the technical skills inherent to the business archetypes proposed by Bocken, Short, Rana and Evans [14
] are highlighted, similar to how Nidumolu et al. [47
] emphasized human capital. Lastly, the paper that provides more insights regarding this view of the people factor is Zollo et al. [49
], which dealt with employees’ capabilities, resistance to change, and relational quality.
Secondly, six of the papers in the sample paid attention to clients. Bocken and Short [51
] brought consumers to the center, claiming that companies try to educate their clients, in the sense of not over-consuming. Moreno et al. [58
] proposed, among their set of issues to consider for circular economy designing, to “design with different participants in the value chain, including your final user”. Likewise, the managerial practices proposed by Ünal et al. [17
] are also centered on the clients. The final framework for the circular business model of Antikainen and Valkokari [57
] also deals with clients, as do the Osterwalder canvas-focused papers from Joyce and Paquin [61
] and Lewandowski [62
Third, three of the papers mentioned the upstream of the value chain. Nidumolu et al. [47
] stated that it is not possible to make value chains sustainable if some issues in terms of relation with suppliers are not accounted for. In a similar manner, Joyce and Paquin [61
] and Lewandowski [62
] identified key partners as suppliers.
Finally, in three of the papers in the sample externalities are argued to affect stakeholders (other than companies’ suppliers and clients). On one hand, Duran-Encalada and Paucar-Cáceres [53
] mentioned stakeholder motivation as a key success factor for the implementation of sustainable practices. On the other hand, the value mapping tool presented by Bocken, Rana and Short [43
] seeks to include the remaining stakeholders under the value generation concept. The educational approach followed by Geissdoerfer et al. [52
] and their proposed workshop based on design thinking also called for the relevance of stakeholders. They claimed that stakeholders need to be involved for the appropriate success of the practices proposed. Finally, the circular business model of Antikainen and Valkokari [57
] also accounts for stakeholders.
Rewards express how intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors are set at the company. According to our results, none of the studies on sustainable business models has explicitly addressed the organizational factor of Rewards. While the terms “incentives”, “culture”, or “motivation” can be found across the sample, they appear tangentially and can be attributed to the People factor, rather than to Rewards.
The Star Model claims that Rewards must be aligned with Structure and Process to accomplish the company’s goals and objectives. The absence of this factor in our literature review suggests that the only part of corporate’s human resources that need to be considered when developing a sustainable business model is managerial (leadership) and technical skills, with employee motivation not being a key factor in this case.