Sustainable business model adoption among S&P 500 firms

Sustainable business model innovation is a hot topic, which has received increasing interest from businesses, academia, NGOs and policy makers as a promising way to create ‘systems-level change’ for sustainability. This work was intended to do a ‘reality check’ of the adoption of sustainable business models by the largest global corporations — those listed in the S&P 500 index — over the period 2005–2014. We examined press release communications during this period, which represent public data about business-relevant events. We used academic and practitioner expert panels to build a set of keywords across nine sustainable business model archetypes (Figure 1) and utilised automated content analysis to examine companies’ sustainable business activities and practices.

Nine SBM archetypes

Figure 1. Nine sustainable business model archetypes (Ritala et al., 2018 based on Bocken et al., 2014, 2016 and Lüdeke-Freund et al., 2016).


One of the findings was that large capitalized firms have mostly adopted the environmentally-oriented archetypes, and to much lesser extent the societal and organizational ones. Difficult topics such as sufficiency and scaling up of sustainable business model innovation initiatives remain challenging in large business. Further detail about the analyses on types of business models pursued and trends can be found in our paper. Good food for thought for future work!


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

Bocken, N.M.P., Weissbrod, I., Tennant, M., 2016. Business model experimentation for sustainability. Sustainable Design & Manufacturing Conference, Crete, Greece, 4-6 April 2016.

Lüdeke-Freund, F., Massa, L., Bocken, N., Brent, A., & Musango, J. 2016. Business Models for Shared Value: How Sustainability-Oriented Business Models Contribute to Business Success and Societal Progress. Cape Town: Network for Business Sustainability South Africa.

Ritala, P., Huotari, P., Bocken, N., Albareda, L., Puumalainen, K. 2018. Sustainable business model adoption among S&P 500 firms: A longitudinal content analysis study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 170, 216-226.