A Stakeholder Theory Perspective on Business Models: Value Creation for Sustainability

  • Birte Freudenreich
  • Florian Lüdeke-Freund
  • Stefan SchalteggerEmail author
Original Paper


Business models are developed and managed to create value. While most business model frameworks envision value creation as a uni-directional flow between the focal business and its customers, this article presents a broader view based on a stringent application of stakeholder theory. It provides a stakeholder value creation framework derived from key characteristics of stakeholder theory. This article highlights mutual stakeholder relationships in which stakeholders are both recipients and (co-) creators of value in joint value creation processes. Key findings include that the concept and analysis of value creation through business models need to be expanded with regard to (i) different types of value created with and for different stakeholders and (ii) the resulting value portfolio, i.e., the different kinds of value exchanged between the company and its stakeholders. This paper details the application of the stakeholder value creation framework and its theoretical propositions for the case of business models for sustainability. The framework aims to support theoretical and empirical analyses of value creation as well as the management and transformation of business models in line with corporate sustainability ambitions and stakeholder expectations. Overall, this paper proposes a shift in perspective from business models as devices of sheer value creation to business models as devices that organize and facilitate stakeholder relationships and corresponding value exchanges.


Business model Stakeholder theory Corporate sustainability Value creation Business models for sustainability 



The authors would like to thank Iolanda Saviuc for her support in an early stage of developing the framework.


Authors Birte Freudenreich and Stefan Schaltegger have received a research Grant (No 01UT1425D) from the German Ministry of Science and Education (BMBF).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Abdelkafi, N., Makhotin, S., & Posselt, T. (2013). Business models innovations for electric mobility – What can be learned from existing business model patterns? International Journal of Innovation Management, 17(1), 1–41.Google Scholar
  2. Al-Debei, M. M., & Avison, D. (2010). Developing a unified framework of the business model concept. European Journal of Information Systems, 19(3), 359–376.Google Scholar
  3. Andersson, B., Bergholtz, M., Edirisuriya, A., Ilayperuma, T., Johannesson, P., Gordijn, J., Grégoire, B., Schmitt, M., Dubois, E., & Abels, S. (2006). Towards a reference ontology for business models. In Conceptual Modeling-ER 2006 (pp. 482–496). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  4. Ballon, P. (2007). Business modelling revisited: The configuration of control and value. Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, Information and Media, 9(5), 6–19.Google Scholar
  5. Barney, J. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Management, 17(1), 99–120.Google Scholar
  6. Bocken, N., Short, S., Rana, P., & Evans, S. (2013). A value mapping tool for sustainable business modelling. Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 13(5), 482–497.Google Scholar
  7. Bocken, N., Short, S., Rana, P., & Evans, S. (2014). A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 65, 42–56.Google Scholar
  8. Boons, F., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013). Business models for sustainable innovation: State of the art and steps towards a research agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 9–19.Google Scholar
  9. Bouwman, H., & van Den Ham, E. (2003). Exploring value networks enabling the delivery of back office content to mobile workers. ITI’03 Europrix Conference. Tampere.Google Scholar
  10. Bouwman, H., Zhengjia, M., van der Duin, P., & Limonard, S. (2008). A business model for IPTV service: A dynamic framework. Info, 10(3), 22–38.Google Scholar
  11. Breuer, H., Fichter, K., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Tiemann, I. (2018). Sustainability-oriented business model development: Principles, criteria, and tools. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing, 10(2), 256–286.Google Scholar
  12. Breuer, H., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2017a). Values-based innovation management: Innovating by what we care about. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  13. Breuer, H., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2017b). Values-based network and business model innovation. International Journal of Innovation Management. Scholar
  14. Bridoux, F., & Stoelhorst, J. W. (2016). Stakeholder relationships and social welfare: A behavioral theory of contributions to joint value creation. Academy of Management Review, 41(2), 229–251.Google Scholar
  15. Brickson, S. L. (2007). Organizational identity orientation: The genesis of the role of the firm and distinct forms of social value. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 864–888.Google Scholar
  16. Busch, T., Bauer, R., & Orlitzky, M. (2016). Sustainable development and financial markets: Old paths and new avenues. Business & Society, 55(3), 303–329.Google Scholar
  17. Casadesus-Masanell, R., & Ricart, J. E. (2010). From strategy to business models and onto tactics. Long Range Planning, 43(2–3), 195–215.Google Scholar
  18. Chesbrough, H. (2007). Business model innovation: It’s not just about technology anymore. Strategy & Leadership, 35(6), 12–17.Google Scholar
  19. Christ, K. L., Burritt, R. L., Guthrie, J., & Evans, E. (2018). The potential for ‘boundary-spanning organisations’ in addressing the research-practice gap in sustainability accounting. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. Accessed 02 Feb 2019.
  20. Darnall, N., Henriques, I., & Sadorsky, P. (2010). Adopting proactive environmental strategy: The influence of stakeholders and firm size. Journal of Management Studies, 47(6), 1072–1094.Google Scholar
  21. Dentoni, D., Bitzer, V., & Pascucci, S. (2016). Cross-sector partnerships and the co-creation of dynamic capabilities for stakeholder orientation. Journal of Business Ethics, 135(1), 35–53.Google Scholar
  22. Donaldson, T., & Preston, L. (1995). The stakeholder theory of the corporation: Concepts, evidence, and implications. The Academy of Management Review, 20(1), 65–91.Google Scholar
  23. Dreyer, B., Lüdeke-Freund, F., Hamann, R., & Faccer, K. (2017). Upsides and downsides of the sharing economy: Collaborative consumption business models’ stakeholder value impacts and their relationship to context. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 125, 87–104.Google Scholar
  24. Elkington, J. (2004). Enter the triple bottom line. In J. Elkington (Ed.), The triple bottom line: Does it all add up? (pp. 1–12). London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  25. Figge, F., & Schaltegger, S. (2000). What is “stakeholder value”? Developing a catchphrase into a benchmarking tool. Lueneburg: Universiy of Lueneburg.Google Scholar
  26. Freeman, E. (1984). Stakeholder management: Framework and philosophy. Mansfield: Pitman.Google Scholar
  27. Freeman, E. (2010). Managing for stakeholders: Trade-offs or value creation. Journal of Business Ethics, 96, 7–9.Google Scholar
  28. Freeman, R. E., Pierce, J., & Dodd, R. H. (2000). Environmentalism and the new logic of business: How firms can be profitable and leave our children a living planet. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Garriga, E. (2014). Beyond stakeholder utility function: Stakeholder capability in the value creation process. Journal of Business Ethics, 120(4), 489–507.Google Scholar
  30. Gordijn, J., & Akkermans, H. (2001). Designing and evaluating e-business models. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 16(4), 11–17.Google Scholar
  31. Gordijn, J., Akkermans, H., & van Vliet, H. (2000). What’s in an electronic business model? In: International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 257–273.Google Scholar
  32. Haigh, N., & Hoffmann, A. (2014). The new heretics: Hybrid organizations and the challenges they present to corporate sustainability. Organization & Environment, 27(3), 223–241.Google Scholar
  33. Haslam, C., Tsitsianis, N., Andersson, T., & Gleadle, P. (2015). Accounting for business models: Increasing the visibility of stakeholders. Journal of Business Models, 3(1), 62–80.Google Scholar
  34. Hörisch, J., Freeman, E., & Schaltegger, S. (2014). Applying stakeholder theory in sustainability management: Links, similarities, and a conceptual framework. Organization & Environment, 27(4), 1–19.Google Scholar
  35. Johnson, M. W. (2010). Seizing the white space: Business model innovation for growth and renewal. Boston: Harvard Business Press.Google Scholar
  36. Joyce, A., & Paquin, R. (2016). The triple layered business model canvas: A tool to design more sustainable business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 135, 1474–1486.Google Scholar
  37. Kurucz, E., Colbert, B., Lüdeke-Freund, F., Upward, A., & Willard, B. (2017). Relational leadership for strategic sustainability: Practices and capabilities to advance the design and assessment of sustainable business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, 189–204.Google Scholar
  38. Lambert, S. (2012). Deconstructing business model frameworks using a reference model. University of South Australia. Adelaide, Occasional Working Paper No.4.Google Scholar
  39. Lee, M.-D. (2011). Configuration of external influences: The combined effects of institutions and stakeholders on corporate social responsibility strategies. Journal of Business Ethics, 102(2), 281–298.Google Scholar
  40. Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Dembek, K. (2017). Sustainable business model research and practice: Emerging field or passing fancy? Journal of Cleaner Production, 168, 1668–1678.Google Scholar
  41. Lüdeke-Freund, F., Freudenreich, B., Saviuc, I., Schaltegger, S., & Stock, M. (2017). Sustainability-oriented business model assessment: A conceptual foundation. In E. Carayannis & S. Sindakis (Eds.), Analytics, innovation and excellence-driven enterprise sustainability (pp. 169–206). Houndmills: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  42. Lüdeke-Freund, F., Massa, L., Bocken, N., Brent, A., & Musango, J. (2016). Business models for shared value: Main report. Cape Town: Network for Business Sustainability South Africa.Google Scholar
  43. Marine Stewardship Council MSC (2017). The MSC in numbers. Retrieved June 7, 2017 from
  44. Massa, L., Tucci, C. L., & Afuah, A. (2017). A critical assessment of business model research. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1), 73–104.Google Scholar
  45. Max-Neef, M. A., Elizalde, A., & Hopenhayn, M. (1991). Human scale development: Conception, application and further reflections. New York: The Apex Press.Google Scholar
  46. Miller, T. R., Wiek, A., Sarewitz, D., Robinson, J., Olsson, L., Kriebel, D., & Loorbach, D. (2014). The future of sustainability science: A solutions-oriented research agenda. Sustainability Science, 9(2), 239–246.Google Scholar
  47. Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  48. Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., & Tucci, C. (2005). Clarifying business models: Origins, present, and future of the concept. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 16(1), 1–25.Google Scholar
  49. Parmar, B. L., Freeman, E., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., & de Colle, S. (2010). Stakeholder theory: The state of the art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Patala, S., Jalkala, A., Keränen, J., Väisänen, S., Tuominen, V., & Soukka, R. (2016). Sustainable value propositions: Framework and implications for technology suppliers. Industrial Marketing Management, 59, 144–156.Google Scholar
  51. Payne, A., Storbacka, K., & Frow, P. (2008). Managing the co-creation of value. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 36(1), 83–96.Google Scholar
  52. Pedersen, E. R. G., Gwozdz, W., & Kant Hvass, K. (2018). Exploring the relationship between business model innovation, corporate sustainability, and organisational values within the fashion industry. Journal of Business Ethics, 149(2), 267–284.Google Scholar
  53. Rauter, R., Perl-Vorbach, E., & Baumgartner, R. (2017). Is open innovation supporting sustainable innovation? Findings based on a systematic, explorative analysis of existing literature. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 11(2/3), 249–270.Google Scholar
  54. Richardson, J. (2008). The business model: An integrative framework for strategy. Strategic Change, 17(5–6), 133–144.Google Scholar
  55. Schaltegger, S., & Figge, F. (2000). Environmental shareholder value: economic success with corporate environmental management. Eco-Management and Auditing: The Journal of Corporate Environmental Management, 7(1), 29–42.Google Scholar
  56. Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E. G., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016a). Business models for sustainability: Origins, present research, and future avenues. Organization & Environment, 29(1), 3–10.Google Scholar
  57. Schaltegger, S., Hörisch, J., & Freeman, R. E. (2017). Business cases for sustainability: a stakeholder theory perspective. Organization & Environment. Scholar
  58. Schaltegger, S., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Hansen, E. (2012). Business cases for sustainability. The role of business model innovation for corporate sustainability. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 6(2), 95–119.Google Scholar
  59. Schaltegger, S., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Hansen, E. G. (2016b). Business models for sustainability: A co-evolutionary analysis of sustainable entrepreneurship, innovation, and transformation. Organization & Environment, 29(3), 264–289.Google Scholar
  60. Schneider, T., & Sachs, S. (2017). The impact of stakeholder identities on value creation in issue-based stakeholder networks. Journal of Business Ethics, 144(1), 41–57.Google Scholar
  61. Shafer, S. M., Smith, H. J., & Linder, J. C. (2005). The power of business models. Business Horizons, 48(3), 199–207.Google Scholar
  62. Sommer, A. (2012). Managing green business model transformations. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  63. Spitzeck, H., & Hansen, E. G. (2010). Stakeholder governance: How stakeholders influence corporate decision making. Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 10(4), 378–391.Google Scholar
  64. Stubbs, W., & Cocklin, C. (2008). Conceptualizing a “sustainability business model”. Organization & Environment, 21(2), 103–127.Google Scholar
  65. Teece, D. J. (2010). Business models, business strategy and innovation. Long Range Planning, 43(2/3), 172–194.Google Scholar
  66. Timmers, P. (1998). Business models for electronic markets. Electronic Markets, 8(2), 3–8.Google Scholar
  67. Tukker, A. (2015). Product services for a resource-efficient and circular economy – a review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 97, 76–91.Google Scholar
  68. Upward, A., & Jones, P. (2016). An ontology for strongly sustainable business models: Defining an enterprise framework compatible with natural and social science. Organization & Environment, 29(1), 97–123.Google Scholar
  69. Wirtz, B. W., Pistoia, A., Ullrich, S., & Göttel, V. (2016). Business models: Origin, development and future research perspectives. Long Range Planning, 49(1), 36–54.Google Scholar
  70. Woodruff, R. B. (1997). Customer value: The next source for competitive advantage. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 25(2), 139.Google Scholar
  71. Yang, M., Evans, S., Vladimirova, D., & Rana, P. (2017). Value uncaptured perspective for sustainable business model innovation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, 1794–1804.Google Scholar
  72. Zott, C., & Amit, R. (2010). Business model design: An activity system perspective. Long Range Planning, 43(2–3), 216–226.Google Scholar
  73. Zott, C., Amit, R., & Massa, L. (2011). The business model: Recent developments and future research. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1019–1042.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Birte Freudenreich
    • 1
  • Florian Lüdeke-Freund
    • 2
  • Stefan Schaltegger
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre for Sustainability ManagementLeuphana University LüneburgLüneburgGermany
  2. 2.Chair for Corporate SustainabilityESCP Europe Business School BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations