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How do incumbent firms innovate their business models for the circular economy? Identifying micro‐foundations of dynamic capabilities

Santa?Maria, Tomas; Vermeulen, Walter J. V.; Baumgartner, Rupert J.


Tomas Santa?Maria

Walter J. V. Vermeulen

Rupert J. Baumgartner


Claire Lea
Project Manager


The circular economy is promoted as a contributor to sustainable development; however, the process of circular business model innovation remains under-explored to date, hindering its implementation. Dynamic capabilities research provides a theoretical perspective to explore how incumbent firms can innovate in rapidly changing environments. An abductive qualitative research is done through an exploratory multiple case study on 10 incumbents that implemented a circular business model innovation. We identify 26 practices, aggregated in 12 micro-foundations of the dynamic capabilities of sensing, seizing, and reconfiguring. By integrating the few empirical studies characterizing dynamic capabilities for sustainability-oriented business model innovation, we offer a comprehensive framework of 33 practices. This study proposes that the most relevant practices for circular business model innovation processes are adopting a lifecycle perspective, employing sustainability-oriented instruments, ideating sustainable value propositions, developing a sustainability strategy and culture, and engaging and coordinating stakeholders in the business ecosystem. We also suggest seven particularly relevant practices for long-term business model transformations (e.g., top management commitment), four for innovations focused on short and medium loops of the circular economy (e.g., early customer engagement), and four for long loops (e.g., business ecosystem coordination). This study corroborates and expands recent research on dynamic capabilities for sustainability-oriented innovation and provides practitioners with a set of 33 skills, processes, procedures, and activities to be prioritized to successfully innovate their business models for the circular economy.


Santa‐Maria, T., Vermeulen, W. J. V., & Baumgartner, R. J. (2021). How do incumbent firms innovate their business models for the circular economy? Identifying micro‐foundations of dynamic capabilities. Business strategy and the environment : BSE,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 10, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 5, 2021
Publication Date Dec 5, 2021
Deposit Date Feb 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 15, 2022
Journal Business Strategy and the Environment
Print ISSN 0964-4733
Electronic ISSN 1099-0836
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Best practices; Business model innovation; Case study; Circular economy; Dynamic capabilities; Micro-foundations; Sustainable business model; Sustainable development
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Published article (2.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Authors. <br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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