Stakeholder theory is one of the most widespread theoretical lenses in sustainable business model (SBM) research (Dembek et al., 2018; Norris et al., 2021; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008), as SBMs strive to propose, create, and deliver value to all stakeholders beyond organisational boundaries (Bocken et al., 2014; Freudenreich et al., 2020; Lüdeke-Freund & Dembek, 2017; Schaltegger et al., 2016; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008). The focus on stakeholders builds on the assumption that a business models’ capability to create value relies on successfully harmonising stakeholders’ interests (Schaltegger et al., 2016) and that stakeholder engagement is a central factor in implementing business models that considerably contribute to societal sustainability transformations (Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008).
However, stakeholder theory in SBM research is mainly anthropocentric, as it emphasises human stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, employees, partners, shareholders, investors, or local communities (Freudenreich et al., 2020; Norris et al., 2021; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008). Thereby, SBM research fails to acknowledge the role and impact of non-human animals as stakeholders (Tallberg et al., 2022). Although SBM scholars increasingly consider nature as a non-human stakeholder in their research (e.g. Fobbe & Hilletofth, 2021; Lüdeke-Freund et al., 2020; Velter et al., 2020; Vladimirova, 2019), animals have to date received scarce attention in SBM research, or have merely been considered as resources (Bos et al., 2013; DeMello & Shapiro, 2010; Tallberg et al., 2022).1
This is surprising, as non-human animals play an active role in business: Each year, European slaughterhouses kill about 360 million animals (Dodkin & Jayne, 2017), around 20 million cows contribute to milk production (European Commission, 2023), and the pure economic benefit of bees is estimated at around 265 billion euros worldwide (Gradziuk et al., 2021). Moreover, animals are indirectly affected by current ways of doing business: By logging forests, destructing living spaces, and using poisonous pesticides to produce animal food, the meat industry fosters the extinction of hundred thousands of species (Bristow, 2011; DeMello, 2021; Machovina et al., 2015; Subak, 1999). According to Bocken and Short (2021, p. 5), “industrial-scale farming based on extensive use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, monocrops, and extensive animal husbandry” belong to the most unsustainable business models.
Hence, I argue that researchers and practitioners must consider animals as stakeholders in SBMs in order to enhance business models’ contribution to sustainability transformations. This essay takes a first step to developing a post-anthropocentric stakeholder theory for SBM research that considers non-human animals. I start by elaborating on the societal construction of the separation between human animals and non-human animals through anthropocentrism (Borland & Lindgreen, 2013; DeMello, 2021; Norton, 2007; Tallberg et al., 2022) and speciesism (DeMello, 2021; Horta, 2010; Singer, 2009; Steinbock, 1978). I outline how these belief systems led to the focus on human stakeholders in SBM research, as well as viewing animals as objects/resources instead of subjects/living beings (Kompatscher et al., 2021). After that, I propose to change the perspective towards acknowledging animals as equal stakeholders along four steps:
(1) Identifying non-human animals as stakeholders in SBMs. I argue that conventional business models and even many SBMs currently regard non-human animals as resources instead of stakeholders. For example, SBMs use animals as resources for the ‘production’ of meat or fish (Barbieri & Santos, 2020; Barth et al., 2017; Björklund, 2018; Chia et al. 2019; Long et al., 2018; Suckling et al., 2020; Tell et al., 2016; Velter et al., 2020), for the ‘production’ of honey, eggs, and dairy (Björklund, 2018; Fiore et al., 2020; Long et al., 2018; Tell et al., 2016), or for recreation services in zoos or horse riding (Reier Forradellas et al., 2021; Rantala et al., 2018). This first steps supports scholars and practitioners in becoming aware of non-human animals involved in or affected by value creation and their current roles (often as objects/resources) (Tallberg et al., 2022).
(2) Identifying human and non-human stakeholder needs. Second, although it is already difficult to identify the interests and needs of human stakeholders, a post-anthropocentric stakeholder theory is about understanding the needs of all stakeholders, including non-human animals. This is especially difficult because humans are naturally inclined to anthropocentric views. I introduce a variety of methods such as anthropomorphic anecdotes (Mitchell et al., 1997), multispecies ethnography (Kirksey & Helmreich, 2010), sensory ethnography (Fijn, & Kavesh, 2021), phenomenology (Lestel ettt al., 2014), kinaesthetic empathy (Parviainen, 2003), and interkinaesthetic comportment (Warkentin, 2010) that offer scientific approaches to understanding the needs of non-human animals (Kompatscher et al., 2021).
(3) Balancing human and non-human stakeholder needs. Third, a post-anthropocentric stakeholder theory challenges SBMs to align the interests of different human and non-human stakeholders. Thereby, SBMs should not rank incompatible interests, but balance the stakeholder interests in a way that leads to mutually valuable results (Bocken et al., 2021; Freudenreich et al., 2020). I argue that balancing and aligning human and non-human stakeholder interests requires the consideration of philosophical and modern animal ethics. Hence, I introduce the seminal work by Peter Singer (2009) and Tom Regan (2004), and discuss their implications for a post-anthropocentric stakeholder theory in SBM research. I conclude by calling on the human responsibility of stewardship for the well-being of all living beings as well as for the inanimate nature.
(4) Responding to human and non-human stakeholder needs. Fourth, I elaborate on how SBMs can respond to non-human animals’ stakeholder interests in concrete terms. I illustrate existing examples and methods, such as plant-based agricultural business models (Anders & Eisenbach, 2017) or the attempt by the German baker Volker Schmidt-Sköries to register bees as shareholders in his bakery chain (Stucki, 2021).
Consolidating these insights, this conceptual essay contributes to SBM research by developing a post-anthropocentric stakeholder theory that invites scholars and practicioners to transcend the human-animal divide and radically rethink the role of animals in SBMs. Thereby, the essay paves the way for SBM research to move beyond an anthropocentric worldview closely connected to social exploitation and environmental degradation. It outlines how SBMs can contribute to societal sustainability transformations by considering non-human animals as valuable and equitable stakeholders.
Business model, stakeholder theory, sustainability transformations, human-animal studies, animal ethics, speciesism
Anders, A., & Eisenbach, J. (2017). Biocyclic-vegan agriculture. Growing Green International. 39, 32-34.
Barbieri, R., & Santos, D. F. L. (2020). Sustainable business models and eco-innovation: A life cycle assessment. Journal of Cleaner Production. 266, 121954.
Barth, H., Ulvenblad, P. O., & Ulvenblad, P. (2017). Towards a conceptual framework of sustainable business model innovation in the agri-food sector: A systematic literature review. Sustainability. 9 (9), 1620.
Björklund, J. C. (2018). Barriers to sustainable business model innovation in Swedish agriculture. Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation. 14 (1), 65-90.
Bocken, N. M. P. & Short, S. W. (2021) Unsustainable business models - Recognising and resolving institutionalised social and environmental harm. Journal of Cleaner Production. 312, 127828.
Bocken, N. M. P., Short, S. W., Rana, P. & Evans, S. (2014) A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes. Journal of cleaner production. 65, 42-56.
Borland, H., & Lindgreen, A. (2013) Sustainability, epistemology, ecocentric business, and marketing strategy: Ideology, reality, and vision. Journal of Business Ethics. 117, 173-187.
Bos, J. M., Blok, V., & Tulder, R. V. (2013) From confrontation to partnerships: The role of a Dutch Non-Governmental Organization in co-creating a market to address the issue of animal welfare. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review. 16, 69-75.
Bristow, E. (2011) Global climate change and the industrial animal agriculture link: The construction of risk. Society & Animals. 19 (3), 205-224.
Chia, S. Y., Tanga, C. M., van Loon, J. J., & Dicke, M. (2019). Insects for sustainable animal feed: inclusive business models involving smallholder farmers. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 41, 23-30.
Cooper, K., Dedehayir, O., Riverola, C., Harrington, S., & Alpert, E. (2022). Exploring consumer perceptions of the value proposition embedded in vegan food products using text analytics. Sustainability. 14 (4), 2075.
Dembek, K., York, J., & Singh, P. J. (2018) Creating value for multiple stakeholders: Sustainable business models at the Base of the Pyramid. Journal of Cleaner production. 196, 1600-1612.
DeMello, M. (2021) Human-animal studies. In Animals and Society (pp. 3-41). Columbia University Press.
DeMello, M., & Shapiro, K. (2010) The state of human-animal studies. Society & Animals. 18 (3), 307-318.
Dodkin, C., & Jayne, K. (2017) Laboratory and Farm Animal Law: Opportunities for Ending Animal Use. Beyond Anthropocentrism. 5, 177.
European Commission. (2023) Milk and dairy products. Available from: https://agriculture.ec.europa.eu/farming/animal-products/milk-and-dairy-products_en [Accessed 31st January 2023].
Fijn, N., & Kavesh, M. A. (2021) A sensory approach for multispecies anthropology. The Australian Journal of Anthropology. 32, 6-22.
Fiore, M., Galati, A., Gołębiewski, J., & Drejerska, N. (2020). Stakeholders' involvement in establishing sustainable business models: The case of Polish dairy cooperatives. British Food Journal. 122 (5), 1671-1691.
Fobbe, L., & Hilletofth, P. (2021) The role of stakeholder interaction in sustainable business models. A systematic literature review. Journal of cleaner production. 327, 129510.
Freudenreich, B., Lüdeke-Freund, F., & Schaltegger, S. (2020) A stakeholder theory perspective on business models: Value creation for sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics. 166, 3-18.
Gradziuk, P., Jończyk, K., Gradziuk, B., Wojciechowska, A., Trocewicz, A., & Wysokiński, M. (2021) An economic assessment of the impact on agriculture of the proposed changes in EU biofuel policy mechanisms. Energies. 14 (21), 6982.
Horta, O. (2010) What is speciesism?. Journal of agricultural and environmental ethics. 23, 243-266.
Kirksey, S. E., & Helmreich, S. (2010) The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural anthropology. 25(4), 545-576.
Kompatscher, G., Spannring, R., & Schachinger, K. (2021) Human-animal studies: eine Einführung für Studierende und Lehrende. Stuttgart, UTB.
Lestel, D., Bussolini, J., & Chrulew, M. (2014) The phenomenology of animal life. Environmental Humanities. 5(1), 125-148.
Long, T. B., Looijen, A., & Blok, V. (2018). Critical success factors for the transition to business models for sustainability in the food and beverage industry in the Netherlands. Journal of cleaner production. 175, 82-95.
López-Nicolás, C., Ruiz-Nicolás, J., & Mateo-Ortuño, E. (2021). Towards sustainable innovative business models. Sustainability. 13 (11), 5804.
Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Dembek, K. (2017) Sustainable business model research and practice: Emerging field or passing fancy?. Journal of Cleaner Production. 168, 1668-1678.
Lüdeke-Freund, F., Rauter, R., Pedersen, E. R. G., & Nielsen, C. (2020) Sustainable value creation through business models: The what, the who and the how. Journal of Business Models. 8 (3), 62-90.
Machovina, B., Feeley, K. J., & Ripple, W. J. (2015) Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption. Science of the Total Environment. 536, 419-431.
Mitchell, R. W., Thompson, N. S., & Miles, H. L. (1997) Taking anthropomorphism and anecdotes seriously. Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals.
Norris, S., Hagenbeck, J., & Schaltegger, S. (2021) Linking sustainable business models and supply chains - Toward an integrated value creation framework. Business Strategy and the Environment. 30 (8), 3960-3974.
Norton, S. D. (2007) The natural environment as a salient stakeholder: non‐anthropocentrism, ecosystem stability and the financial markets. Business Ethics: A European Review. 16 (4), 387-402.
Parviainen, J. (2003) Kinaesthetic empathy. Dialogue and universalism. 11, 151-162.
Rantala, T., Ukko, J., Saunila, M., & Havukainen, J. (2018). The effect of sustainability in the adoption of technological, service, and business model innovations. Journal of cleaner production. 172, 46-55.
Regan, T. (2004) Empty cages: Facing the challenge of animal rights. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield.
Reier Forradellas, R., Náñez Alonso, S. L., Jorge-Vázquez, J., Echarte Fernández, M. Á., & Vidal Miró, N. (2021). Entrepreneurship, sport, sustainability and integration: A business model in the low-season tourism sector. Social Sciences. 10(4), 117.
Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E. G., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016) Business models for sustainability: Origins, present research, and future avenues. Organization & Environment. 29 (1), 3-10.
Seo, K., & Suh, S. (2019). A study on the characteristics and social values of vegan fashion in H&M and Zara. Journal of Fashion Business. 23 (6), 86-100.
Singer, P. (2009) Speciesism and moral status. Metaphilosophy. 40 (3‐4), 567-581.
Steinbock, B. (1978) Speciesism and the Idea of Equality. Philosophy. 53 (204), 247-256.
Stubbs, W., and Cocklin, C. (2008) Conceptualizing a “sustainability business model”. Organization and environment. 21 (2), 103-127.
Subak, S. (1999) Global environmental costs of beef production. Ecological Economics. 30 (1), 79-91.
Suckling, J., Druckman, A., Moore, C. D., & Driscoll, D. (2020). The environmental impact of rearing crickets for live pet food in the UK, and implications of a transition to a hybrid business model combining production for live pet food with production for human consumption. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 25, 1693-1709.
Tallberg, L., García-Rosell, J. C., & Haanpää, M. (2022) Human–animal relations in business and society: Advancing the feminist interpretation of stakeholder theory. Journal of Business Ethics. 180 (1), 1-16.
Tell, J., Hoveskog, M., Ulvenblad, P., Ulvenblad, P. O., Barth, H., & Ståhl, J. (2016). Business model innovation in the agri-food sector: A literature review. British Food Journal. 118 (6), 1462-1476.
Todeschini, B. V., Cortimiglia, M. N., Callegaro-de-Menezes, D., & Ghezzi, A. (2017). Innovative and sustainable business models in the fashion industry: Entrepreneurial drivers, opportunities, and challenges. Business horizons. 60 (6), 759-770.
Velter, M. G. E., Bitzer, V., Bocken, N. M. P., & Kemp, R. (2020) Sustainable business model innovation: The role of boundary work for multi-stakeholder alignment. Journal of Cleaner Production. 247, 119497.
Vladimirova, D. (2019) Building sustainable value propositions for multiple stakeholders: A practical tool. Journal of Business Models. 7 (1), 1-8.
Warkentin, T. (2010) Interspecies etiquette: An ethics of paying attention to animals. Ethics & the Environment. 15 (1), 101-121.