Sustainability-oriented innovations (SOI) are indispensable to enable sustainable consumption and production. However, their multidimensional character makes the development of SOI an often difficult task for companies. This article addresses four major challenges which are in particular associated with SOI development, including defining an adequate innovation scope, considering various stakeholders and identifying related user needs and sustainability effects. This clearly shows that there is a continuous need for adequate methods and tools that enable companies to successfully develop SOI. Design thinking (DT), a user-centered and iterative problem-solving approach, has recently attracted research interest as a possible approach to tackle complex socio-ecological problems. However, a systematic and detailed discussion of the application of DT for SOI development is still missing. This article explores why and how design thinking can foster the development of SOI. For this purpose, the concept of DT with its five key principles (i.e., problem framing, user focus, diversity, visualization, experimentation and iteration) is presented. In a next step, we develop a research framework with four propositions that demonstrate the suitability of DT’s key principles for meeting the identified SOI challenges. Finally, boundary conditions, practical implications and opportunities for further research are pointed out.