There are high expectations on business models as ways to drive sustainable development.  Various ‘sharing business models’ have emerged, some with a pure business intent, but others more clearly oriented towards societal and environmental benefits. The actual impacts of new sharing business models on society, the environment and the economy are debatable, and may in some cases even be adverse. It is clear that sharing business models need to be more clearly understood.

A new way of investigating the real impact of sharing business models is the ‘ecologies of business models’ approach, which analyses the symbiotic and competitive relations between new and existing business models. This approach is presented in Boons & Bocken (in press).

The ‘ecologies of business models’ is based on dynamics in nature, to advance understanding of how new business models reinforce existing ones or jeopardise these. This will help us assess the real impact of new business models by understanding the interlinkages between various new and old business models. E.g.: To what extent does a car sharing business model reduce the total number of cars on the road, or sustain car sales? To what extent do clothing sharing business models prevent new clothing sales and reduce the actual amount of clothes being produced?

An overview of the types of relationships is shown in Table 1. Knowing the relationships between different business models, e.g. whether they are in competition or symbiotic, will facilitate the understanding of whether such business models live up to expectations. For example: do car sharing business models really prevent new cars from being built, or, do they sustain our car dependencies through sustaining our car dependencies?

This research has clear implications  for understanding ‘wider systems change’, for example, the transition to a Circular Economy or understanding the interplays between stakeholders and businesses to transition to sustainable cities, which deals with issues around mobility and ‘livability’.  Further work building on this approach is in progress.


The full article is available here.


Table 1: Ecological relationships between business (Boons & Bocken, in press)

Ecological relationships between business models


Boons, F.,Bocken, N., 2018. Towards a sharing economy – innovating ecologies of business models. Technological Forecasting & Social Change (in press).  Authors own copy (accepted version not edited by the journal) available here.