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Franz Josef Radermacher, DE

Professor of Informatics at Ulm University

What does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

Sustainable entrepreneurship means that entrepreneurs and companies keep the sustainability aspect in mind in their value creation activities. At the very least, it means that they orient their actions towards sustainability more than they did before. Ideally, it should in fact involve an active contribution towards sustainability, but that is hard to achieve within the terms of the global market as it stands today.

How firmly rooted is sustainable entrepreneurship already in people’s thinking and, above all, in the actions of companies?

 The principle of sustainable entrepreneurship has already taken root in the minds of many entrepreneurs and company owners, but often only on a superficial level; for instance, with a focus on generating a particularly high turnover in the long term. Responsibility towards society, now and in future, is not yet being assumed above and beyond the general business activity and in a targeted fashion. Companies have targeted activities of varying scope, usually under the name of corporate social responsibility, depending on the degree of reflection of the owners, entrepreneurs and managers, and also depending on the respective market situation and character of the company.

It would seem that sustainable entrepreneurship has become even more relevant in the wake of the crisis. Do you agree? And why is it that it often takes a crisis for a shift in awareness to come about in industry and politics as well as society?

That’s true. In today’s particularly challenging environment sustainable entrepreneurship becomes even more significant. The signals show that something is not right. This gives rise to the impulse for a shift in awareness on the one hand; but on the other hand, unfortunately, it often objectively decreases the possibilities to pursue sustainability. Apart from that, it is hardly surprising that things only change in times of crisis in industry, politics and society. After all, simply avoiding crises means that quite a few things are being done right. A crisis then forces change, although it is not clear whether the induced changes bring about an improvement or worsening of the conditions.

Politics, industry, society – who should be driving force for the development of sustainable entrepreneurship?

Politics and industry are both elements of society, so in this sense society is definitely required. A third power within society is civil society. In the long run we need adequate global governance. Its implementation is ultimately a political challenge; but the conditions aren’t conducive to mastering this challenge. That’s why we have to try to get somewhere with the triangle of politics, industry and civil society. A critical civil society and critical consumers can push companies in a sustainable direction, especially brand names that are under a lot of pressure due to their prominence. If a large enough number of these companies work together with civil society towards sustainability, this might just create conditions in which politics can actually do what it is supposed to do but which cannot presently be implemented under the current economic conditions of competition between countries.

What can/should the EU do to promote the topic of sustainable entrepreneurship?

The EU is the world’s leading commercial power. This means that it has a tangible effect on the way that sustainable entrepreneurship will develop throughout the world. And simply by setting ambitious standards for Europe we can indirectly promote global change in this matter. At the same time, this is a continuation of our previous strategy. As far as sustainability goes, the EU is and always has been a trailblazer among the major political blocs.

The Club of sustainable entrepreneurs – Verein für nachhaltiges Wirtschaften awards the SEA to projects that are outstanding examples of sustainable entrepreneurship. What do you think of this initiative?

I am pleased that the Club of sustainable entrepreneurs awards the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award to outstanding projects in the area of sustainable entrepreneurship. I was greatly impressed by a whole string of these projects.