Challenges of business models for sustainability in startups


  • Universidade Federal da Paraíba
  • Universidade Federal da Paraíba
  • Universidade Federal da Paraíba


Business model innovation, Sustainable development goals, Sustainable entrepreneurship, Circular economy



This study aims to analyze the challenges startups face in implementing business models for sustainability. In particular, the research question of this study is: How do the challenges faced by startups affect business models for sustainability in the context of an emerging country?


Startups are increasingly incorporating ways to thrive in a competitive environment with innovative sustainable business models, a key factor for competitive advantage and corporate sustainability. This paper analyses startups’ challenges in adopting business models for sustainability through a case study in two startups, using the sustainable value exchange matrix (SVEM) tool through workshops, to carry out the diagnosis of these challenges.


The barriers and challenges of business models for sustainability in startups were found in different categories, where the main barriers are linked to the institutional category, the organizational and the market and sales culture. Thus, the authors concluded that there is a need to reformulate public policies and to have greater participation of the actors involved.

Research limitations/implications

The main limitation of the research is the number of case studies (only two), which makes it difficult to generalize the results.

Practical implications

The research presents two major contributions. First, through the case studies, it is possible to verify that the barriers and challenges in business models for sustainability have relevance for startups. The second contribution is the adaptation of SVEM in conducting the debate by incorporating the barriers and challenges in value creation and delivery system.

Social implications

This study contributes to the business models for sustainability literature to better understand the challenges startups face in practice and can serve as insights to help overcome them. As this is an empirical study, the information gathered can help create metrics and public policies to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals.


The present research has as originality the analysis of the challenges in startups in implementing business models for sustainability and their relationships with the value proposition, capture and creation, as well as and delivery (adapted to the challenges found in the literature) applying the SVEM tool proposed by Morioka et al. (2018).


Download data is not yet available.


Baldassarre, B., Calabretta, G., Bocken, N. M. P., & Jaskiewicz, T. (2017). Bridging sustainable business model innovation and user-driven innovation: A process for sustainable value proposition design. Journal of Cleaner Production, 147, 175–186, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.01.081.

Blank, S. (2006), The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win, San Francisco:

Bocken, N. M. P., & Geradts, T. H. J. (2020). Barriers and drivers to sustainable business model innovation: Organization design and dynamic capabilities. Long Range Planning, 53(4), 101950, doi: 10.1016/j.lrp.2019.101950.

Bocken, N. M. P., Rana, P., & Short, S. W. (2015). Value mapping for sustainable business thinking. Journal of Industrial and Production Engineering, 32(1), 67–81, doi: 10.1080/21681015.2014.1000399.

Boons, F., Montalvo, C., Quist, J., & Wagner, M. (2013). Sustainable innovation, business models and economic performance: An overview. Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 1–8, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.08.013.

Calabrese, A., Forte, G., & Ghiron, N. L. (2018). Fostering sustainability-oriented service innovation (SOSI) through business model renewal: The SOSI tool. Journal of Cleaner Production, 201, 783–791, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.08.102.

Chesbrough, H. (2010), “Business model innovation: opportunities and barriers”, Long Range Planning, 43(2/3), 354-363. doi: 10.1016/j.lrp.2009.07.010.

Crawford, S. E. S., & Ostrom, E. (1995). A grammar of institutions. American Political Science Review, 89(3), 582–600, doi: 10.2307/2082975.

Devalle, A., di Trana, M. G., Fiandrino, S., & Vrontis, D. (2020). “Integrated thinking rolls! Stakeholder engagement actions translate integrated thinking into practice”, Meditari Accountancy Research.

Eisenhardt, K.M. (1989), “Building theories from case study research”, The Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532-550. doi: 10.2307/258557.

Elkington, J. (1997), “The triple bottom line”, Environmental Management: Readings and Cases, 2, 49-66.

Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107–115, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x.

Engelken, M., Römer, B., Drescher, M., Welpe, I. M., & Picot, A. (2016). Comparing drivers, barriers, and opportunities of business models for renewable energies: A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 60, 795–809, doi: 10.1016/j.rser.2015.12.163.

Ferlito, R., & Faraci, R. (2022). Business model innovation for sustainability: A new framework. Innovation & Management Review, doi: 10.1108/INMR-07-2021-0125.

Fiksel, J. (2003). Designing resilient, sustainable systems. Environmental Science & Technology, 37(23), 5330–5339, doi: 10.1021/es0344819.

Freudenreich, B., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Schaltegger, S. (2020). A stakeholder theory perspective on business models: Value creation for sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics, 166(1), 3–18, doi: 10.1007/s10551-019-04112-z.

Geissdoerfer, M., Bocken, N. M., & Hultink, E. J. (2016). Design thinking to enhance the sustainable business modelling process – A workshop based on a value mapping process. Journal of Cleaner Production, 135, 1218–1232, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.07.020.

Geissdoerfer, M., Vladimirova, D., & Evans, S. (2018). Sustainable business model innovation: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 198, 401–416, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.06.240.

Giacomarra, M., Crescimanno, M., Sakka, G., & Galati, A. (2019). Stakeholder engagement towards value co-creation in the F&B packaging industry. EuroMed Journal of Business, 15(3), doi: 10.1108/EMJB-06-2019-0077.

Govindan, K., Kannan, D., & Shankar, K. M. (2014). Evaluating the drivers of corporate social responsibility in the mining industry with multi-criteria approach: A multi-stakeholder perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 84(1), 214–232, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.12.065.

Haro-de-Rosario, A., Gálvez-Rodríguez, M. D., Sáez-Martín, A., & Caba-Pérez, C. (2017). Packaging sector agreement: Evaluation in the light of extended producer responsibility. Revista de Administração de Empresas, 57(5), 470–482, doi: 10.1590/S0034-759020170505.

Hueske, A. K., & Guenther, E. (2021). Multilevel barrier and driver analysis to improve sustainability implementation strategies: Towards sustainable operations in institutions of higher education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 291, 125899, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.125899.

Inigo, E.A. & Albareda, L. (2019), “Sustainability oriented innovation dynamics: Levels of dynamic capabilities and their path-dependent and self-reinforcing logics”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 139, 334-351. doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2018.11.023.

Jabbour, C. J. C., Seuring, S., de Sousa Jabbour, A. B. L., Jugend, D., Fiorini, P. D. C., Latan, H., & Izeppi, W. C. (2020). Stakeholders, innovative business models for the circular economy and sustainable performance of firms in an emerging economy facing institutional voids. Journal of Environmental Management, 264, 110416, doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110416.

Joyce, A., & Paquin, R. L. (2016). The triple layered business model canvas: A tool to design more sustainable business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 135, 1474–1486, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.06.067.

Lashitew, A. A., van Tulder, R., & Muche, L. (2020). Social value creation in institutional voids: a business model perspective. Business & Society, doi: 10.1177/0007650320982283.

Laukkanen, M., & Patala, S. (2014). Analysing barriers to sustainable business model innovations: Innovation systems approach. International Journal of Innovation Management, 18(6), doi: 10.1142/S1363919614400106.

Lepak, D. P., Smith, K. G., & Taylor, M. S. (2007). Value creation and value capture: A multilevel perspective. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 180–194, doi: 10.5465/AMR.2007.23464011.

Matsumoto, M., Yang, S., Martinsen, K., Kainuma, Y et al. (2016), “Trends and research challenges in remanufacturing”, International Journal of Precision Engineering and Manufacturing-Green Technology, 3(1), 129-142. doi: 10.1007/s40684-016-0016-4.

McLoughlin, J., Kaminski, J., Sodagar, B., Khan, S., Harris, R., Arnaudo, G., & Mc Brearty, S. (2009). A strategic approach to social impact measurement of social enterprises. Social Enterprise Journal, 5(2), 154–178, doi: 10.1108/17508610910981734.

Minatogawa, V., Franco, M., Rampasso, I. S., Holgado, M., Garrido, D., Pinto, H., & Quadros, R. (2022). Towards systematic sustainable business model innovation: What can we learn from business model innovation. Sustainability, 14(5), 2939, doi: 10.3390/su14052939.

Morioka, S. N., Bolis, I., & de Carvalho, M. M. (2018). From an ideal dream towards reality analysis: Proposing sustainable value exchange matrix (SVEM) from systematic literature review on sustainable business models and face validation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 178, 76–88, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.12.078.

Morioka, S. N., Bolis, I., Evans, S., & Carvalho, M. M. (2017). Transforming sustainability challenges into competitive advantage: Multiple case studies kaleidoscope converging into sustainable business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 167, 723–738, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.08.118.

Morioka, S. N., & de Carvalho, M. M. (2016). A systematic literature review towards a conceptual framework for integrating sustainability performance into business. Journal of Cleaner Production, 136, 134–146, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.01.104.

Osterwalder, A, & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers, Vol. 1, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Richardson, J. (2008). The business model: an integrative framework for strategy execution. Strategic Change, 17(5–6), 133–144, doi: 10.1002/jsc.821.

Ries, E. (2011), “The lean startup: How today's entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses”, Currency,

Salim, H. K., Stewart, R. A., Sahin, O., & Dudley, M. (2019). Drivers, barriers and enablers to end-of-life management of solar photovoltaic and battery energy storage systems: A systematic literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 211, 537–554, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.229.

Schaltegger, S., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Hansen, E. G. (2016). Business models for sustainability. Organization & Environment, 29(3), 264–289, doi: 10.1177/1086026616633272.

Schneider, A. (2015). Reflexivity in sustainability accounting and management: Transcending the economic focus of corporate sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics, 127(3), 525–536, doi: 10.1007/s10551-014-2058-2.

Selberherr, J. (2015). Sustainable life cycle offers through cooperation. Smart and Sustainable Built Environment, 4(1), 4–24, doi: 10.1108/SASBE-02-2014-0010.

Silvestre, W. J., & Fonseca, A. (2020). Integrative sustainable intelligence: A holistic model to integrate corporate sustainability strategies. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 27(4), 1578–1590, doi: 10.1002/csr.1906.

Silvestre, W. J., Fonseca, A., & Morioka, S. N. (2022). Strategic sustainability integration: Merging management tools to support business model decisions. Business Strategy and the Environment, 31(5), doi: 10.1002/bse.3007.

Svensson, G., & Wagner, B. (2011). A process directed towards sustainable business operations and a model for improving the GWP-footprint (CO2e) on earth. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, 22(4), 451–462, doi: 10.1108/14777831111136063.

Teece, D. J. (2010). Business models, business strategy and innovation. Long Range Planning, 43(2-3), 172–194, doi: 10.1016/j.lrp.2009.07.003.

Todeschini, B. V., Cortimiglia, M. N., Callegaro-de-Menezes, D., & Ghezzi, A. (2017). Innovative and sustainable business models in the fashion industry: Entrepreneurial drivers, opportunities, and challenges. Business Horizons, 60(6), 759–770, doi: 10.1016/j.bushor.2017.07.003.

Tura, N., Hanski, J., Ahola, T., Ståhle, M., Piiparinen, S., & Valkokari, P. (2019). Unlocking circular business: A framework of barriers and drivers. Journal of Cleaner Production, 212, 90–98, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.202.

Vermunt, D. A., Negro, S. O., Verweij, P. A., Kuppens, D. V., & Hekkert, M. P. (2019). Exploring barriers to implementing different circular business models. Journal of Cleaner Production, 222, 891–902, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.052.

Voss, C., Tsikriktsis, N., & Frohlich, M. (2002). Case research in operations management. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 22(2), 195–219, doi: 10.1108/01443570210414329.

Wu, Z. & Pagell, M. (2011), “Balancing priorities: Decision-making in sustainable supply chain management”, Journal of Operations Management, 29(6), 577-590. doi: 10.1016/j.jom.2010.10.001.

Yin, R.K. (2001), Estudo de Caso – Planejamento e, Método. 2. ed. São Paulo: Bookman.

Zott, C., Amit, R., & Massa, L. (2011). The business model: Recent developments and future research. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1019–1042, doi: 10.1177/0149206311406265.






Research Paper