Essays on customized and collaborative value creation from the perspective of sustainability

  • Aufsätze zur kundenindividuellen und kollaborativen Wertschöpfung aus der Perspektive der Nachhaltigkeit

Hankammer, Stephan; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Kleer, Robin (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2018)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, RWTH Aachen University, 2018


Over the last decades, there has been growing awareness of the collective impact of human society on the planetary boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009). Consumers become more conscious about and competent in buying environmentally-friendly products (Thogersen & Olander, 2002; Waddock et al., 2002). Subsequently, businesses experience an increasing pressure to become more sustainable (Elkington, 1997; Nidumolu et al., 2009; Waddock et al., 2002). It is therefore not sufficient to study business models from an economic perspective alone, but also from a social and environmental perspective (Boons & Lüdeke-Freund, 2013; Elkington, 1997).The objective of this dissertation is to integrate sustainability considerations into management research on customized and collaborative value creation (CVC). Concepts of CVC, such as mass customization (MC), contrast traditional management views, in which companies are the ones who create value and customers those who consume it (Moeller et al., 2013; Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2004). Instead, business models in which customers and other external actors play an active role in the creation of value, in order to improve the satisfaction of customer needs, become widespread (Etgar, 2008; Franke & Piller, 2004; Nenonen & Storbacka, 2010; Payne et al., 2008). In today’s management practice, CVC initiatives are predominantly separated from sustainability management (Arnold, 2017). In this dissertation I use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods to address the integration of sustainability considerations into CVC in general and MC in particular in a series of four independent research papers. The first paper examines the landscape of research on customized value creation. Applying recent advances in natural language processing, namely the Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) algorithm for topic modeling, I systematically structure the body of literature that studies the idea of providing customized goods and services according to individual customer needs. I find that 60 topics disclose the field of MC. Using regression analysis, I reveal how each topic has evolved over time. Relying on network analysis, I explore the links between the topics and the role of the various management disciplines in shaping the research field. Based on these generalized findings, I put forward an agenda for future interdisciplinary research on MC. The second paper explores the social, environmental, and economic potentials of an MC business models, which aimed at fostering sustainability in the consumer electronics industry. Using a qualitative case-study approach, I show how modularity enables continuous customization during the usage phase, while enabling longer life times of products through upgradability and reparability. Moreover, I reveal that MC can have positive social effects at the long tail of a market, enhancing access to special applications such as health diagnostics in the specific context of modular and customizable smartphones. In the third paper I shed light on the co-creation phase of MC and its potential to contribute to the promotion of sustainable consumption. I theoretically derive and empirically test a number of opportunities for companies to improve corporate sustainability in a joint effort with consumers. By portraying a simulated online buying process of a customizable TV with a realistic web-based product configurator, I conduct two consumer choice experiments embedded in a large-scale online survey. I find that offering goods with customizable attributes of different sustainability levels gives consumers the opportunity to customize products reflecting their individual sustainability consciousness. Moreover, the results suggest that sustainable default settings can play a significant role in promoting sustainable consumption. The fourth paper conceptually explores how CVC concepts and technologies are assessed from the perspective of the degrowth concept. I argue that CVC might not only be relevant for businesses within economies that are set to grow, but also for none-profit and alternative organizations. In the search for strategies to really manage the pressing transition towards a sustainable society within planetary boundaries, those research lines that demand more radical changes than what is discussed today in business practice receive increasing attention. Paper IV explores how CVC can contribute to research on such alternative concepts. I outline five areas, in which CVC could contribute to the objectives of degrowth. The conceptual analysis reveals that several elements of CVC and its enabling technologies coincide with degrowth objectives but as such do not lead to their attainment. Thereby, a starting point for future (empirical) work in this area is generated.


  • Chair of Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) [812710]