The transition towards a low-carbon economy involves the enterprises as primary actors. Indeed, a transformation of business models is currently taking place, such that the business case for sustainability is today a popular concept among scholars and practitioners. In times of great transformations, a clear vision of the process that has led to the current state of affairs would be helpful to understand future advancements. This study aims to outline a systemic review of the social and economic transformations that have required business models to innovate to be sustainable. In doing so, it tries to adopt an original approach, focusing on the evolution in the socio-economic context, imposed by globalisation first and by the Great Recession afterwards. Departing from the contextual picture, the study identifies the main drivers of business model innovation, translated into the adoption of innovative strategies to create both economic and social value in a long-term perspective. What emerges from the review is that, if business’ primary concern was initially to recover social legitimation, it perceives sustainability today as a necessary condition to survive in uncertain times of deep transformation of the economy.