Inclusive business models and sustainable energy

Society today is posed with the fundamental question of whether the set of rules currently directing the production and distribution of resources can allow for ‘sustainable development’. Since the 1980's our approach to dealing with biophysical limits has been to enable individual economic agents to express traditionally non-market social and environmental values through market mechanisms, allowing the market to correct for resource scarcity or for negative externalities through regulation and price-driven (tax or subsidy induced) technological innovation. However, there is abundant literature and empirical evidence suggesting that institutional arrangements themselves affect individual motivation and the values driving individual decision making (Bowles, 1998). Institutional contexts are not culturally neutral, but may invoke different neural processes for egoistic or empathetic utility domains which may be complementary or competitive (Fehr and Camerer, 2007; Kalinowsky et al, 2006). Across the developed and developing world, there is a well-established correlation between the prevalence of market institutions, corrosion of social institutions and the ability of individuals to trust outsiders (Ensminger, 2000).

This research asks whether new and inclusive business models in the renewable energy sector represent a means of reinstating the plurality of values in behavioural decisions to affect the materiality of production and/or consumption. Inclusive business models analysed range from local and collectively owned renewable energy, to supply chain wide environmental information management. The work explores the role of enhanced networking capabilities, distributed ownership and inclusivity in the transition to sustainable energy systems. It uses social experiments and action research based approaches, drawing on concepts and findings from institutional economics, business management, organizational learning and information governance.