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Updated A.Y. 2022-2023

A business model represents a set of strategic decisions that establish how companies create, transfer and acquire value based on their internal activities and their relationships with stakeholders, including suppliers and customers Business Model (BM) design therefore represents a strategic priority for companies. The ecological transition requires companies to adapt their business model or create a new one. By studying Sustainable and Circular Business Model Innovation (SBMI, CBMI, SCBMI), new variables are added to the traditional Business Model Innovation (BMI), such as, for example, reverse logistics, customer perceptions and preferences regarding products second-hand, remanufactured and refurbished, the closure of cycles, regeneration, sharing, value optimization, virtualization, servitization, Life Cycle Thinking, Design Thinking, systemic thinking.
Sustainable business models aim to generate multiple environmental, social and economic benefits, rather than to reduce and minimize negative impacts on the environment and society, and in doing so create a more stable relationship of trust with all the players in the value chain, acquiring a more stable position in the markets in which they operate. Sustainable business models determine a sustainable and circular use of resources, in all phases of the value chain and are supported by disruptive technologies (i.e. digital, e.g. Internet of Things, big data, blockchain and RFID; physical, e.g. 3D printing, robotics, energy storage and collection, modular design technology, nanotechnology; biological, e.g. bioenergy, bio- materials, biocatalysis). The sustainable and circular business models are favoured by the presence of cultural and behavioural enabling factors, both at the level of individuals and organizations, such as dynamic capabilities, attitude for change, adaptability and resilience.
The course will deal with all these issues providing students with an advanced knowledge of sustainability and circularity, highlighting the integration of these approaches in new business models, the role of leadership and new types of entrepreneurship in sustainable innovation processes, the importance of metrics for the evaluation of performance and impact, the nature and functioning of the tools to support innovation, the role that new technologies can play in the ecological transition process. 

The first two hours will be dedicated to provide an overview of the entire course; group work and individual work will be explained and assigned, as well as the final exam and assessment methods for attending and non-attending students will be illustrated. The next ten hours (phase 1) focus on the key concepts of Sustainability and Circularity and on the specificities of the Sustainable and Circular Business Model Innovation. In this first part of the course, the key concepts of sustainability and circularity will be analyzed and understood and the link that exists between the processes of innovation and those of change that the ecological transition requires will be highlighted. All these aspects will be presented and discussed from a point of view of the main theories, as well as from a practical point of view. During this first part, a company presentation will be organized, aimed at presenting the drivers, barriers and challenges of sustainable and circular strategic innovation processes. During this first part students will be assigned group work aimed at understanding the role of sustainable and circular business models in the dynamic of transition that European and international policies are triggering.

The second twelve hours of the course (phase 2) focus on the development of business strategies, with particular reference to business model innovation and innovation for sustainability. Different types of business models and strategies will be presented and analyzed, in order to understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the impacts at the system level, according to the different components of sustainability (economic, social and environmental). Particular attention will be given to the management of the value chain, as an essential element for business continuity, competitiveness, resilience of organizations, sustainability and innovation of products and services. In this context, the role of new technologies and digital transformation will be highlighted, in support of corporate performance, and the collection and exchange of traceable, reliable, clear and replicable information, fundamental prerequisites for the creation and co-creation of value. Also in this part of the course a company testimony will be presented with particular reference to frontier experiences from the point of view of circular and innovative business models. Students will be given specific teaching cases, again in small groups, which will be appropriately presented and discussed in class. In this part of the course, aspects related to Leadership, Systemic Innovation for Sustainability, Sustainable Enterpreneurship will also be analyzed and discussed.

The last twelve hours of the course (phase 3) will focus on measuring and evaluating sustainable innovations. Approaches and challenges will be analyzed, with particular reference to how to assess the impact of the Sustainable Business Model. In this context, specific tools for assessing corporate performance will be analyzed and discussed, with particular reference to international and European standards aimed at supporting and demonstrating the level of sustainability of individual companies, as well as of products / services. During this part of the course, Tools, Methods and Technologies able of supporting sustainable and circular business model innovation will also be presented and analyzed, both for the adaptation of existing business models and for the development of new models. Also in this phase a company testimony will be presented which is particularly coherent with the themes being studied and analyzed and students will again be involved in group work. They will be asked to make a short presentation aimed at describing and comparing, according to a predefined outline, some company strategies, to then identify and develop appropriate areas for improvement. For each presentation a second group will be identified that will play the role of discussant.


Bocken, N., Ritala, P., Albareda, L., & Verburg, R. (Eds.). (2019). Innovation for Sustainability: Business Transformations Towards a Better World. Springer (suggested for attending students, mandatory for non-attending students)