In Europe, the forest-based sector is currently based mainly on the use of wood resources. The low share of services in creating added value illustrates this, in France, for example, 18% of added value including trade in 2012 [1].

A transition seems necessary, as the world currently uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support human activities [2], and even at the current level of consumption, the pace remains unsustainable [3]. There is therefore a need to move beyond a purely resource-based view of the bioeconomy, which requires a change in business model and more sustainability in the way value is created and captured. The sector thus faces a major challenge: the transition of its value creation paradigm towards a sustainable model, to allow for virtuous economic development and societal balance.

To move towards sustainable ecosystem management, one solution could be to move away from the resource extraction paradigm as the only major source of value creation. The idea is not to stop harvesting wood and non-wood forest products, which are essential bio-based materials for our societies, but rather to diversify the fields of activity to better resist crises and diversify the creation of value and the use of forest ecosystems, and the resulting supply chains.

Sustainable value creation is at the heart of the sustainable business model concept [4-6]. The scope of the sustainable business model makes it possible to observe and analyse both the nature of a company’s activity and its consideration of social and environmental issues [5]. A business model (BM) was defined by Osterwalder and Pigneur in 2009 [7] as describing “the way in which an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value“. Following on from this concept, a sustainable business model “helps describing, analyzing, managing, and communicating (i) a company’s sustainable value proposition to its customers, and all other stakeholders, (ii) how it creates and delivers this value, (iii) and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social, and economic capital beyond its organizational boundaries” [5]. In short, it is the combination of economic, social and environmental issues.

The concept of sustainable business model (SBM) has only recently been addressed in the scientific literature [8]. Indeed, the term business model was still being developed in the 2010s, and the concept of SBM is an evolution of the business model [9]. This explains why SBM, like the business model, has many definitions [4-6, 10-14].

To draw up a state-of-the-art of the literature on the topics of the BM and SBM forestry sector, I carried out a bibliometric study at the beginning of 2022 via the Web of Science multidisciplinary bibliographic database (all dates combined, and all types of documents written in English). This study first confirmed that the business model phenomenon is relatively young in the scientific literature, with results coming mainly from the last ten years (Figure 1) and is rather well covered (27313 results[1]) and in an increasing manner. However, the forest-based sector has hardly paid any attention to the business model: when trying several combinations of keywords, the results do not exceed a few hundred at most[2] and are not very relevant. The relationships between the keywords are also less convincing (Figure 2). Concerning the sustainable business model, 1115 results are related to this concept[3], but only 29 results are found when it is combined with forestry-wood sector keywords, and not all of them are related to the sector. Only 7 articles could potentially be linked, and many of them do not concern European territories.

Figure 1. Occurrence of major keywords relevant to the bibliometric study, by year of publication.

Figure 2. Occurrence of major keywords relevant to the bibliometric study, by keyword group. Search terms: ALL=”business model*” AND ALL=forest* OR wood*

There is therefore a need for more clarity on the typologies of sustainable economic activities within the forest bioeconomy, both to improve knowledge on the subject but also to better understand the transition to new, more sustainable business models.

Scientific literature does not currently allow us to know how to integrate a resource balance in the design and development of a BM, as Reim et. al point out [15]. They also identify the lack of knowledge about the organisational capabilities that are essential to motivate network actors to adopt SBMs. A taxonomy of SBM models has recently emerged [16], providing insights into the activities that need to be put in place to move towards sustainability in a business model.

However, the way in which these activities trigger sustainable transitions is still not well known [17]. The concrete levers of a sustainable transition in a BM have yet to be developed.

It would be relevant to reflect on the design and implementation of SBMs in the sector: this could make it possible to reduce the dependence of companies on the resource, by developing activities linked to services or the intangible.

It would be also relevant to study new forms of markets to create new areas of activity to enable the sector to diversify, and launch some research projects about the following questions: why is there so little entrepreneurship and sustainable business models in the forest-based sector? What is driving the change in companies to include or not include concepts of sustainability and circularity? Are the support infrastructures and available knowledge and awareness sufficient and suitable?

As a first step, the NOMADI project at EFI has started to study the sustainable business model concept in the forestry sector.

The forestry industries could also review their business plans and think about new activities that may be less focused on resource extraction, but still focused on value creation. This will most certainly involve the circular economy, but also the concepts of the service economy, the knowledge economy, and the economy of functionality. These panels of activities, although favoured by the major economic policies [18], are still too insignificant within our sector.

I am convinced that getting together and thinking about new forms of development for forestry would be an effective strategy for dealing with the major crises that our century may bring.


[1]        Veille Economique Mutualisée de la filière forêt-bois. Chiffres clés – Valeur ajoutée et emploi, (2019, accessed 7 December 2021).

[2]        WWF. Rapport. Living Planet Report.

[3]        Randers J. 2052: A global forecast for the next forty years. Chelsea Green Publishing. Vermont, 2012.

[4]        Lüdeke-Freund F. Towards a conceptual framework of business models for sustainability. 2010; 28.

[5]        Schaltegger S, Hansen EG, Lüdeke-Freund F. Business models for sustainability: origins, present research, and future avenues, (2016).

[6]        Upward A, Jones P. An Ontology for Strongly Sustainable Business Models: Defining an Enterprise Framework Compatible With Natural and Social Science. Organization & Environment 2016; 29: 97–123.

[7]        Osterwalder A, Pigneur Y. Business Model Generation.

[8]        Mhamed AEH. Aperçu de la littérature sur le business model.

[9]        Schaltegger S, Freund FL, Hansen EG. Business cases for sustainability: the role of business model innovation for corporate sustainability. IJISD 2012; 6: 95.

[10]      Stubbs W, Cocklin C. Conceptualizing a “Sustainability Business Model”. Organization & Environment 2008; 21: 103–127.

[11]      Adams R, Jeanrenaud S, Bessant J, et al. Innovating for sustainability. A systematic review of the body of knowledge.

[12]      Boons F, Lüdeke-Freund F. Business models for sustainable innovation: state-of-the-art and steps towards a research agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production 2013; 45: 9–19.

[13]      Garetti M, Taisch M. Sustainable manufacturing: trends and research challenges. Production Planning & Control 2012; 23: 83–104.

[14]      Wells P. Sustainable business models and the automotive industry: A commentary. IIMB Management Review 2013; 25: 228–239.

[15]      Reim W, Parida V, Sjödin DR. Circular Business Models for the Bio-Economy: A Review and New Directions for Future Research. Sustainability 2019; 11: 2558.

[16]      Lüdeke-Freund F, Carroux S, Joyce A, et al. The sustainable business model pattern taxonomy — 45 patterns to support sustainability-oriented business model innovation. Sustainable Production and Consumption 2018; 15: 145–162.

[17]      Hernández-Chea R, Jain A, Bocken NMP, et al. The Business Model in Sustainability Transitions: A Conceptualization. Sustainability 2021; 13: 5763.

[18]      European Parliament. Lisbon european council 23 and 24 march 2000 – Presidency conclusions. Conclusions de la présidence, (2000, accessed 7 December 2021).

[1] Web of Science search terms: ALL = “business model*”.

[2] 497 results for the search: ALL=”business model*” AND ALL=forest* OR wood*

[3] Web of Science search terms: ALL = “sustainable business model* “

Photo: Pragasit Lalao /AdobeStock


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