An Ontology for Strongly Sustainable Business Models: Defining an Enterprise Framework Compatible with Natural and Social Science by Upward & Jones

Organization & Environment cover

The first peer reviewed article based on the graduate thesis by Antony Upward, the work that launched the sLab Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group, is now published in a special issue on Business Models for Sustainability of the highly ranked management journal Organization & Environment.

At the invitation of the editors of this special issue, in this article Antony Upward and Peter Jones explore the trans-disciplinary body of literature that informed the design of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology (SSBMO) based on a critique of the earlier profit-normative Business Model Ontology by Alex Osterwalder.

Since Antony Upward completed his graduate thesis in 2013, the practitioner Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas that he also developed, derived from the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology, has been further refined to become the Flourishing Business Canvas.  Bringing this significantly improved business model canvas to market is on-going work of the 12 members of the sLab Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group who form the Flourishing Business Innovation Toolkit project team - see for the most recent developments.


Business is increasingly employing sustainability practices, aiming to improve environmental and social responsibility while maintaining and improving profitability. For many organizations, profit-oriented business models are a major constraint impeding progress in sustainability. A formally defined ontology, a model definition, for profit-oriented business models has been employed globally for several years. However, no equivalent ontology is available in research or practice that enables the description of strongly sustainable business models, as validated by ecological economics and derived from natural, social, and system sciences. We present a framework of strongly sustainable business model propositions and principles as findings from a trans-disciplinary review of the literature. A comparative analysis was performed between the framework and the Osterwalder profit-oriented ontology for business models. We introduce an ontology that enables the description of successful strongly sustainable business models that resolves weaknesses and includes functionally necessary relationships.

Citation and Links

Upward, A., & Jones, P. H. (2015). An ontology for strongly sustainable business models: Defining an enterprise framework compatible with natural and social science. Organization & Environment, Special Issue: Business Models for Sustainability: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Transformation (On-Line First), 1-27 doi:10.1177/1086026615592933 and at