Sustainopreneurship – Business with a Cause
Turning Business Activity from a Part of the Problem to a Part of the Solution
Anders Abrahamsson, Växjö University, Växjö, Sweden, firstname.lastname@example.org Keywords: Entrepreneurship, sustainability, innovation, sustainability innovation, sustainability entrepreneurship, sustainopreneurship
This paper suggests a performative definition of the concept of sustainopreneurship - in the most simplified form described as entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainability - “Business with a Cause”. The concept takes its departure from generic and mainstream meanings of concepts sustainable development, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as recent research through a literature review with core references related to the conceptualization of sustainability innovation and sustainability entrepreneurship. Further development is motivated and argued for, leading to the suggested extended and integrated definition. The definition is presented as an imagined prospective wordbook entry in a “future history” format. One of the key distinctions is that sustainopreneurship is mission- and cause oriented, where business activity is used as a means to solve sustainability-related problems. Further research is suggested, that ought to include the intentional identification of obstacles and institutional barriers, and to find answers on how to overcome them. Moreover, to search for facilitating factors, tools and enablers as well as to identify suitable applied activities, where appropriate areas and domains for sustainopreneurship to operate within should be found. Recommended research methods to use are “enactive research” and “open space technology”. Enactive Research uses self-ethnography in order to take experiences from events enacted by the researcher as the material for research, and Open Space Technology is a meeting facilitation method demonstrated to have the power to break down institutional barriers demanded by the issues at hand, with the purpose to create a genuine multi-stakeholder dialogue. The overall orientation of the research should be towards action and results, with the intention to find how sustainopreneurial processes could become a main driver for business activity in the world.
In this paper I suggest a conceptualisation of the phenomenon to turn sustainability innovations into sustainability businesses, ventures that create endless chains of win-win-win with ecological, economical and social gain for all stakeholders, where a critical mass of sustainopreneurial ventures ultimately gives global sustainable prosperity as an end-result. A result to strive for, since there is only “we” – the one and only family of humanity, in “where we live” – our one and only, shared world. My professional activities include concrete action as well as contributions to the world of ideas. The action is aimed to increase the speed of creating sustainable prosperity by initiating, inspire to and support multi-local and inter-local1 activities as a sustainability entrepreneurship facilitator2. The practice from
Multi-local suggests similar activities in multiple localities (where proven good practices can be transferred from one local context to another), and inter-local primarily refers to these different local activities to get mutually interconnected to create value for all stakeholders involved.
The main activity since early 2000, has been to establish On a Mission Sverige – Ek. För., with sustainability brands Club PuLS™ (a musical experience concept) and Ignition™ (delivering sustainability profile clothing to businesses and organisations who wants to profile themselves as sustainable, sourced through sustainable trade from developing and
the “action-world” contributes to the world of “ideas” by using reflection and attempts to communicate the real-world experience to build up new concepts in the “idea-world”. Earlier experiences of different kinds, primarily ideas put to (inter)action, set the foundation for this conceptual embodiment, with the intention to bring the idea-world contributions back in deployed action in a continuous feedback loop. “The research has to focus on finding solutions to the global problems.” – this was the pledge from the Swedish governmental Environmental Advisory Council, (Miljövårdsberedningen, 2004:18). Sustainable development is one of the core pillars in the proposition approved by parliament on the Swedish research policy, presented March 22, 2005 (“Research for a better life”, “Forskning för ett bättre liv” (Swedish Government/Regeringen, 2005), and it emphasizes a solution-orientation for sustainable development research. The policy especially identifies the transition towards sustainable development as a driving force for innovation, welfare development and economic growth, e. g. in the commercialisation of sustainability-supporting technologies. My paper is a response to that quest for solution-orientation, and gives a contribution to further suggest a research strategy to increase the understanding of what is found in the borderland and intersection of the three conceptual frameworks Sustainable Development/Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Purpose, epistemology and method
Purpose. The purpose of this paper is to suggest a performative definition of the concept sustainopreneurship. Epistemology. Since this paper deals with concepts formation, I present the view on concepts applied; the distinction done in between ostensive vs performative definitions. According to CzarniawskaJoerges in Kostera (2005, 2005:59-60) the ostensive definition “is based on the assumption that it is in principle possible to detect the qualities characteristic of the phenomenon. These characteristics ‘are there’, but in practice they may be difficult to identify. The phenomenon should be approached ‘from the outside’, by the objective researcher” In contrast, a performative definition (Kostera, Ibid., p. 60) “is based on an admission that the description characterizing the phenomenon is impossible, but in practice may become possible. The actors themselves construct such definitions, in order to make action possible. They do this for themselves, as well as for others. While the researcher looking for ostensive definitions will be convinced that there are “objective methods” to employ in order to learn about the essence of the phenomenon, the researcher collecting performative definitions believes that the definitions of the actors are neither ‘better’ nor ‘worse’ than her own. They are pragmatic and thus neither ‘false’ nor ‘true’, but can instead be accurate, beautiful, important, etc. The knowledge of actors is important, because it is the foundation of their actions. They are local, not absolute, and can be many and varied.” The difference is summarised by the table in Kostera (Ibid., p. 60; cf. Table 1). I especially want to draw the attention to the two characteristics in a performative definition paving the way for action and to have an explanatory power for practices3.
emerging economies). The conceptual body to describe the nature of the venture was found to be unsatisfactory until 2003, when the concept of “sustainopreneurship” was found by serendipity, and has been a major driver for writing this paper.
The concept of sustainopreneurship has deliberately been used for its explanatory power as a performative concept for the venture mentioned in note 2.
Table 1. Comparison between ostensive and performative definitions (Kostera, 2005). Ostensive definitions - formulated from outside - “objective” - found in order to describe the “essence” of the phenomenon - the aim is to find the rules - participants as informants Performative definitions - formulated from inside - “working” definitions - formulated in order to enable action - the aim is to explain practices - participants are authors
Method. The concept is built up through reading and analysis of contributions from directly related key literature, mainly from formal research publications.
Three concepts discussed – sustainable development, innovation, entrepreneurship
Confusion, fuzziness and ambiguity is experienced with the three concepts Sustainable Development (SD)/Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as well as strong diffusion over the last decades as candidates to solve many of our societal problems. Sustainable Development, in a collection, has 80 descriptions (RMIT, 2002) made by government, multilateral agencies, corporations and civil society. Still, the definition from the Brundtland Commission (1987) dominates, where many of these descriptions share the same core spirit, to fulfil the needs of today in order not to compromise the coming generations to do the same. Innovation is an even more complex concept as Vedin (1995, pp. 14 and 73) shows. Entrepreneurship is also a concept that lacks consensus in the research community (Gartner, 1990; Samuelsson, 2004). So what happens when they are integrated? Creating even greater levels of elusiveness? At the same time, there are signs of emergence of a “landing” of these concepts to the more simplistic and intuitive levels of common-sense understanding and meaning. After all, maybe one of the core occupations for academics - researching the meaning of concepts – usually leaves the common-sense meaning close to untouched. It would not only go beyond the scope of this paper to take it further than to find the common-sense meaning, but also rapidly giving a scale beyond the limits. Here, only directly purpose-related parts of the dialogue and conversations associated to these concepts are given – integrated with the aim to seek the common-sense meaning of these - to the proposed concept in this paper. With these excerpts, I build up and argue for a new concept derived from these three concepts - sustainopreneurship. Since the focus is the common-sense meaning, the intention is also to enable and generate a diffusion of this concept, to actually reach the commonly used language as well, or at least the general media and directly related channels. It would be very satisfying if the concept could find an acceptance among decision-makers in public, private and civic sectors, which have influence over key processes in society, and applied leads to an increased sustainability.
The “Our Common Future” definition of sustainable development has gone into mainstream and some reviews and works to seek its conceptual development and history of ideas are presented. Mebratu (2000) has made a thorough work of the idea history. His dissertation traces some of the core ideas to ancient thinking and religious beliefs and he concludes that the concept has undergone further development after Brundtland (1987). When it comes to a more systematic literature review, Pezzoli (1997) did a thorough, but today outdated review, where he emphasizes the connection of political process and natural sciences, naturally since sustainable development had the origin in these two areas. A special emphasis was given to the area of “Political Ecology”. A significant step to enlarge sustainable development research into new areas, beyond Pezzoli, was taken with the “Business 3
Approach to SD” (in the first round coming from the business community’s reactive response to greater public and political pressure), with sources like Weizsäcker (1997) and Elkington (1998; 2001), where the latter were introducing the “triple bottom line” concept, referring to the often repeated division of sustainability into ecological, economical/financial and social bottom line4. Later on, these ideas were further developed by an emerging sustainable business community who took a more holistic approach to the innovation and entrepreneurship paradigm (with a transfer in view from reactive to proactive), with a vocabulary from the research community that followed the 1990’s conceptual trajectories of “eco-preneurship” and “social entrepreneurship”. This process of conceptual merger moves towards “sustainability entrepreneurship” (reviewed in Hockerts, 2003 and in Gerlach, 2003a and 2003b), where the Gerlach (2003b) paper uses the specific term “sustainopreneurship” for the first time in a formal academic publication, after it first got mentioned in a popular conference presentation at Rio Impuls Management Forum 2000 (Schaltegger, 2000)5.
There are several types of innovation, covering several different dimensions, e. g. process, focus, category, impact, degree of continuum etc. A list of over 300 modes of innovation processes has been listed (Uhlmann and Piatier in Vedin, 1995:14, 73) and in definition over 400 (Ibid.). Another kind of theoretical dispute is about what should be considered as the beginning and the end of an innovation process, in one extreme from invention proven to work only, as Ruttan/Usher, in Vedin (1980), to the point beyond market introduction and where it makes significant economic results, according to OECD definition in Vedin (1980). Continuum reflects whether an innovation could be regarded as incremental or radical (Ibid.). Innovation directly addresses one of the strongest potentials that the private sector and business community have in contributing to sustainability (Robinson, 2004:378; my bold): “In addition to integrating across fields, sustainability must also be integrated across sectors or interests. It is clear that governments alone have neither the will nor the capability to accomplish sustainability on their own. The private sector, as the chief engine of economic activity on the planet, and a major source for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, must be involved in trying to achieve sustainability. And their activities must also be supplemented by the monitoring, questioning and alternative service delivery roles of an active NGO sector.” This opportunity can be grasped both by new enterprises as well as through intrapreneurial/transformative (radical) changes of old and established corporations with deployment of innovations with business organising related to solve “world - global – social – societal – environmental” problems with purpose-oriented, intended solutions. Innovation is here perceived and interpreted simply to create something new, an idea brought to the economy, introduced to the society/market (Vedin, 1995). Alternatively, business may take an established innovation to extend its use in order to solve sustainability-related problem(s)6.
I have a main critique that it is too simplified to divide a holistic and integrated approach into three divided silos – this is something that is avoided with the ”deep sustainability” approach to my meaning. 5 A file available online that features his presentation is found at http://www.rio.ch/Pages/rmf2000/referate/Schaltegger.pdf 6 This could involve e.g. micro-finance as a financial innovation, where money is an old phenomenon; investment is an old money-related activity where investing in micro-entrepreneurs with poverty lending using so-called “moral collateral” is a new and innovative approach.
Entrepreneurship If innovation in its common-sense meaning is rather straight forward, the common-sense meaning of entrepreneurship can be seen to be the same, or rather the meaning of who is “an entrepreneur”. “I would see it as someone who is organising.” as a youngster expressed it in a survey (Klosterberg & Andersson, 2003). Other views comes with the national Swedish encyclopaedia (Nationalencyklopedin, 2005): “An enterprising person is someone creating user value”, or Vedin (1995), “a person who carry out/undertake/perform (“företar”) something for him/herself, or an enthusiast (Swedish “eldsjäl”, an expression closer to “soul on fire”) acting as a driving force”. Usually the term entrepreneurship is used for a person that establishes a new company or activity, while “intrapreneurship” (Pinchot III, 1985) signifies changing an established organisation. In the search of a common definition for entrepreneurship, it is easy to end up in what I would call a definition paralysis. This difficulty was illustrated by Gartner (1990) where he surveyed predominantly formal academic researchers of senior rank, but here a tendency towards “opportunity identification” was found, e .g. seeing entrepreneurship in terms of fulfilling unmet needs, identifying new markets, providing new products or services. In the end, the terms “new” or “novelty” seems to be repeated attachments both to innovation and entrepreneurship as central aspects. Finally, if we listen to the father of modern entrepreneurship theory during the last century (Schumpeter, 1912:34), he defined the new that the innovator/entrepreneur brings in as new material, new product, new process or a new way of distribution or getting it to the market.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Sustainability
The most important academic sources so far when it comes to sustainability innovation and entrepreneurship, to my view, are first and foremost Hockerts (2003) and the related conceptual emergence covered by Gerlach in her literature review (2003a). Hockerts defined “sustainability innovation” as follows: Sustainability Innovation is any process of social change, which increases the proceeds derived from current natural, social, and economic capital, while at the same time protecting and enhancing the underlying capital stock (Hockerts, 2003:45). Further, he defines “sustainability entrepreneurship” in the following way; Sustainability Entrepreneurship consists of the identification of a sustainability innovation and its implementation either through the foundation of a start-up or the radical reorientation of an existing organization’s business model so as to achieve the underlying ecological or social objectives (Hockerts, 2003:50).
Sustainable vs Sustainability Entrepreneurship
If we take these definitions together, they call for further development, since a process view is quite biased in the Hockerts definitions, what I would rather describe as sustainable entrepreneurship attaching an attribute to the “generic” entrepreneurial process. This is illustrated further by the core content in Hockerts’ PhD dissertation (2003) predominantly researching process and management issues. At the same time, the holistic view required by sustainability is not reflected neither, since “or” is included in the last part of the sustainability entrepreneurship formulation. Sustainability requires “and”, as in “ecological and social objectives” - the integrated meaning that follows from and is implied by the sustainability approach. 5
I suggest a distinction - sustainability entrepreneurship - by forming the concept sustainopreneurship; the use of entrepreneurial activity in a determined action orientation towards solving a sustainabilityrelated problem with business organising as a means to solve the problem(s) – “business with a cause”.
Concluding discussion - Sustainopreneurship defined?
Imagine Oxford English Dictionary, 2008 ed. Sustainopreneurship, n. 1. Deployment of sustainability innovations: Entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainability. 2. Short for sustainability intra-/entrepreneurship. 3. To focus on one or more (world/social/sustainability related) problem(s), find/identify and/or invent a solution to the problem(s) and bring the innovation to the market by creating an efficient organisation. With the (new alt. deep transformation of an old) mission/cause oriented sustainability business created, adding ecological/economical/social values and gains, with a bias towards the intangible - through dematerialization/resocialisation. The value added at the same time preserving, restoring and/or ultimately enhancing the underlying utilized capital stock, in order to maintain the capacity to fulfil the needs of present and coming generations of stakeholders. While the first two prospective and imaginative wordbook meanings from this “future history” are built up quite directly from earlier discussions in this paper, I discuss in more detail the longer description in the third. To focus on one or more (world/social/sustainability related) problem(s)… One of the keys to distinguish this category of entrepreneurial activity and behaviour labelled sustainopreneurship from generic entrepreneurial activity, is the cause-oriented intention that places the core motive, purpose and driving force of the business activities. To identify and further grasp what is meant by sustainability problems, I turn to sources that guides us what is the performative – i. e. what is meant practically and operationally with sustainability in action. This is primarily determined by the political action plan documented in the Millennium Declaration (UN, 2000) and Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000), both agreed at the Millennium Summit in New York 2000, and the WSSD Plan of Implementation decided upon at World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 2002 (UN, 2002). This list derived and synthesized from these documents lines up areas with problems associated to solve, goals to reach, and values to create (adapted from Miljövårdsberedningen, Ibid.). • Poverty • Water and Sanitation • Health • Education/illiteracy • Sustainable production- and consumption patterns • Climate change and energy systems 6
• Chemicals • Urbanisation • Ecosystems, biological diversity and land use • Utilisation of sea resources • Food and agriculture • Trade Justice • Social stability, democracy and good governance • Peace and Security …find/identify and/or invent a solution to the problem(s) and bring the innovation to the market by creating an efficient organisation A fundamental attitude when this list of sustainability-related problems is compiled and then considered is to avoid falling into disempowerment and despair. It is of core importance to take the agenda as entrepreneurial challenges – to view problems as possibilities, obstacles as opportunities, and resistance as an asset, whatever nature the resistance has. You should take7 the challenges with confidence, strong commitment, clear intention and innovative behaviour in constant renewal with (inter)active adaptability - both when ideas are formed on how to meet the challenges, and in deployment of these ideas and innovations by creative organising (Johannisson, 2005). The future is there to actively construct, not to predict. With the (new alt. deep transformation of an old) mission/cause oriented sustainability business created… To further emphasize the distinction between the generic entrepreneurship concept and sustainopreneurship (entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainability), defined by the entrepreneurial activity motivated by the sustainability agenda above, sustainopreneurship is mission and cause oriented. It implies motives and goals beyond, or rather aside “just making money”. Business activities are utilized to solve problems, and moneymaking becomes a means, not an end in itself with the business created. This further gets strengthened by the expression “sustainability business”, where in comparison a sustainable business reflects a business with a conscience and awareness of the sustainability aspects of its operation, its impact from process and result, and adapts accordingly. A sustainability business in contrast refers to a business motivated primarily by its sustainability quest and purpose. In other words, it is in the land in between the strictly commercial vs. non-commercial, in between for-profit and not-for-profit, in between cash and cause. In order to dissolve the boundary in between these either-or perspectives, we can label the aim of the business activity to be “for prosperity”. With the above-mentioned “new/old” distinction the prosperity-making can relate to create new as well as to radically change established businesses (cf. Gerlach, 2003a and 2003b) and it is also reflected in the sustainability entrepreneurship definition of Hockerts (Ibid.). The intra/entrepreneurship division is also reflected by the second part in this imaginative wordbook entry. …adding ecological/economical/social values and gains, with a bias towards the intangible through dematerialization/resocialisation Intangible implies resource use to be lowered, reflected by the term “dematerialization”, while the social dimension of the value-creation is reflected by the term “re-socialisation”. Robinson (2004:381)
“Taken” is very appropriate, since the –preneur suffix comes from the French “prendre”, that means “to take”.
refers to dematerialization as “reducing matter/energy throughput per unit of economic activity” and re-socialisation as “increasing human well-being per unit of economic activity”. The three commonly mentioned dimensions of sustainability are echoed here, where especially Gerlach (2003a) shows ecological vs social entrepreneurship as two respective tracks, now integrated in sustainability entrepreneurship. The value added at the same time preserving, restoring and/or ultimately enhancing the underlying utilized capital stock, in order to maintain the capacity to fulfil the needs of present and coming generations of stakeholders The firmly established sustainability criterion gone mainstream, comes clear and explicit at the end of the definition, where utilization of resources takes into account the needs of future generations. This approach harmonizes fully with the WCED (1987) definition on sustainable development. “Stakeholder” is a generic term of all actors and agents (not just the shareholders) that holds demands on the organisation (not just in the nature and form of financial returns and dividends). These demands are met by explicitly and consciously aim to internalize as well as to minimize the external costs in the form of negative ecological and social impacts from both process and result from the organisation. This perspective is kept, integrated and synthesised from Hockerts´ definitions. Restoring the utilized capital stock is also added besides preservation (or as Hockerts put it, “protect”) and enhancement of it.
Sustainopreneurship summarized and needs for future research
The practical meaning of sustainopreneurship in summary can be described as the deliberate use of business activities to solve sustainability-related problems, i. e. “business with a cause”. Conclusively, the core of sustainopreneurship then becomes to turn business activity from being part of the problem to be part of the solution. Sustainable development - by its demand for holistic approaches - calls for a cross-/multi/transdisciplinary research agenda. Entrepreneurship with ease opens up the field for this kind of research. This is because the entrepreneurship research domain is used to “borrow” from many disciplinary areas to gain legitimacy and existence in itself (Landström, 1999). The focus of this paper is a definition of a semantic what, where more can be done, especially a deeper analysis with a nuanced and detailed taxonomy created of sustainability innovations, the core of sustainopreneurship. My strong recommendation for future research, though, is to focus on an applied how. The general agenda ought to include the intentional identification of obstacles and institutional barriers, and find answers on how to easier overcome them. Moreover, to search for facilitating factors, tools and enablers as well as to identify suitable applied activities, where appropriate areas and domains for sustainopreneurship to operate within should be found. When it comes to methodological issues, identified and recommended are “enactive research” and “open space technology”. Sustainopreneurship can be further strengthened/positioned by using the socalled “enactive research” method (Johannisson; 2000; 2005)8. Enactive Research uses selfethnography in order to take experiences from events enacted by the researcher him/herself as the material for research. It is claimed that entrepreneurial research in general has reached the point where further knowledge about entrepreneurship, after three decades of research about this social phenomenon by Johannisson, demands this method to make further progress. Open Space Technology
All the “how” aspects mentioned are researchable from my own multi-year experience as a practitioner, where “Enactive research” (Johannisson 2005, Ibid.) holds strong power and potential to make a sustainopreneurial process study.
(Owen 1997a, 1997b), is a meeting facilitation method demonstrated to have the power to generate a genuine multi-stakeholder dialogue. This is needed, since many institutional barriers has to be broken down in order to operate this dialogue around the issues at hand and reach tangible results. Not just cross/multi/transdisciplinary in the academic formal research community, but also cross/multi/transsectorally in society as a whole: In between NGO’s and the corporate world, in between practitioners and theorists, in between small innovative startups and big trans-national businesses, in between political/public and private/civic sectors. The overall orientation of the research should be towards action and results, with the intention to find how sustainopreneurial processes could become a main driver for business activity in the world.
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