Current attempts to improve the ecological and social impact of production and consumption practices build on the recognized relevance of business models. Business models are distinct ways of coordinating the provision of goods and services, and they affect the ecological impact and social sustainability of the technologies underlying that provision. This is especially true for so-called sharing business models focused on peer-to-peer-based activities of obtaining, giving, or sharing the access to goods and services, coordinated through community-based online services.
Research on business models is rapidly developing. One characteristic of this work is that it tends to see business models as entities in themselves, with scant attention given to the context in which they occur. This is problematic, as the provision of a specific good or service is interlinked with others. As a result, the ecological and social impact of any business model is partially determined by the constellation of business models of which it is part.
In this paper, we address this gap in the literature, by conceptualizing the economy as an ecology of business models. Building on work in organization studies and biology, we identify typical relationships between business models, ranging from competitive to mutually supportive. We also identify typical relationships between business models and their habitat, which includes physical resources and spatial embedding, but encompasses the institutional infrastructure in a given society.
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