oikos was founded in 1987 as a local students' initiative at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. It was initiated under the name "oikos - Die umweltökonomische Studenteninitiative an der Universität St. Gallen" (Student's initiative for environmental economics), with a focus on environmental issues in the economy.
Over the years oikos slowly began to widen its offering to speeches, workshops and conferences to integrate environmental issues into the curricula of economics and management programmes. It also became a driving force in the creation of many leading organisations namely the ÖBU - Schweizerische Vereinigung für ökologisch bewusste Unternehmensführung (Swiss association for Ecological Management), the oikos Foundation and the Institute for Economy and the Environment (IEE).
In 1997, oikos decided to internationalise its activities and to strengthen ecological and social awareness not only among students in St.Gallen, but also within faculties of economics and management around the world. In the course of this process oikos extended the focus to social issues in the economy.
In 1998 four new local oikos groups were founded (oikos Cologne, oikos Prague, oikos Stockholm, and oikos Vienna). Together with oikos St. Gallen they established oikos International as an umbrella organisation and an administration centre in St. Gallen. Since then, many new groups were founded. Most groups are located in Europe. As it is in the nature of student groups, not all of them still exist. Even though, today oikos International is a stable network of about twenty local chapters.
In 2006 a strategy process was started in order to strengthen the links within the whole oikos family. Since then representatives from the Local Chapters and the oikos Foundation meet on a regular basis with the president and the members of the executive board of oikos International to discuss on strategic goals.
In 2007 the whole oikos family celebrated the 20th anniversary of oikos. About 150 alumni and members of local chapters met in St. Gallen with partners of oikos. The goal of this conference was to find ways to strengthen the impact of oikos in the future.