New SBM PhD thesis on “Business Models for Sustainability Innovation”

On Friday, 13th December, SBM blogger Florian Lüdeke-Freund defended his cumulative PhD thesis “Business Models for Sustainability Innovation – Conceptual Foundations and the Case of Solar Energy”. Below you find a brief summary, an overview of the articles included in the thesis, and the defence presentation.

The PhD thesis can be downloaded here:


This cumulative dissertation deals with the relationships between business models, sustainability innovations, and the business case for sustainability. Its main purpose is to define theoretical and conceptual interrelations between these concepts. According theoretical foundations are developed and combined with empirical studies on the solar photovoltaic industry. This industry is particularly suitable for this kind of research because of its increasing maturity paired with public policy and market dynamics that lead to a variety of business model challenges. The overarching research question is: How can business models support the commercialisation of sustainability innovations and thus contribute to business cases for sustainability?

Theoretical and conceptual foundations are developed from a systematic literature review on the role of business models for technological, organisational, and social sustainability innovations. Further, business model innovation is linked to sustainability strategies and the business case for sustainability. These foundations are applied in an in-depth case study on BP Solar. Moreover, because supportive public policies and the availability of financial capital are important preconditions for commercial success with solar innovations, the dissertation contains a comparative public policy study as well as a conjoint experiment to explore debt capital investors’ preferences for different photovoltaic business models.

The main contribution of this work is the “Business Models for Sustainability Innovation” (BMfSI) framework. It is based on the idea that business models are artificial and social constructs that fulfil different functions based on social interaction and their deliberate construction. The framework emphasises the mediating function, i.e. the iterative alignment of business model elements with company-internal and external factors as well as with the characteristics of environmentally and socially beneficial innovations.


A.     Dissertation framework

I.       The business models for sustainability innovation framework [Abstract (SSRN)]

B.     Conceptual foundations …

II.     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, Vol. 45, 9-19. [DOI | PDF (SSRN)]

III.   Schaltegger, S.; Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Hansen, E. (2012): Business cases for sustainability: The role of business model innovation for corporate sustainability, Int. Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 6, No. 2, 95-119. [DOI | PDF (SSRN)]

C.     … and the case of solar energy

IV.    Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2014): BP’s solar business model: A case study on BP’s solar business case and its drivers, Int. Journal of Business Environment, Vol. 6, No. 3, 300-328. [Link (Journal) | PDF (SSRN)]

V.     Hansen, E.; Lüdeke-Freund, F.; West, J. & Quan, X. (2013, in review): Beyond technology push vs. demand pull: The evolution of solar policy in the U.S., Germany and China, submitted to Research Policy.

VI.    Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Loock, M. (2011): Debt for brands: Tracking down a bias in finan­cing photovoltaic projects in Germany, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 19, No. 12, 1356-1364. [DOI | PDF (SSRN)]


Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): Business Models for Sustainability Innovation – Conceptual Foundations and the Case of Solar Energy. PhD Thesis. Lüneburg: Leuphana University.


Via Leuphana University of Lüneburg:



  1. Supot Chunhachoti-ananta · · Reply

    This is what I have been looking for.
    Great stuff.
    I hope to find out exactly what are the criteria and indicators in assessing and creating sustainability of a business model for solar PV rooftop

    1. Dear Supot,
      thanks a lot for your support and interest. If you are interested in business model and solar issues, we can continue our exchange via e-mail:
      Best wishes & merry x-mas,

      1. Supot Chunhachoti-ananta · ·

        Merry belated Christmas to you too.
        Thank you for your kind offer.
        I will try to do my thesis and hopefully ask you some good questions.

      2. Hi Supot, as you may have seen, the framework paper is now available on SSRN:

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