Jessica Scholl, US
What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean to you personally?
I view Sustainable Entrepreneurship as any profitable commercial activity that responds to a societal demand or need. Demand-based SE recognizes and responds to the market opportunities created by changing socio-ecological conditions: a growing global middle class, over-utilized energy grids, declining availability of natural resources, increasing access to technology, etc. Due to the nature of these conditions, SE solutions are more naturally predisposed to having a net positive impact on society and/or the environment. Need-based SE creates solutions to address societal and/or environmental problems. If the ‘need’ is not well recognized by consumers, there may not be a strong demand in the market and efforts to cultivate consumer awareness and market demand will be required. Sustainable Entrepreneurs can be individuals or groups pursuing new business ventures or employees within a company—otherwise known as ‘intrapreneurs’—that re-conceptualize current business operations. Regardless of what form it takes, Sustainable Entrepreneurship has the potential to catalyze the development of symbiotically healthy economies, societies, and environments; a transformation essential to the future of our global community and planet.
What do you think, how firmly rooted is Sustainable Entrepreneurship already in people's thinking and, above all, in the actions of entrepreneurs?
The degree to which Sustainable Entrepreneurship has been integrated into the mainstream varies between markets. In some geographic areas—such as in Northern Europe--a combination of culture, consumer demand and public policy creates a culture conducive to SE. In many lesser developed regions, market conditions that are sub-optimal for traditional or Western commerce—lack of a large consumer middle class, limited access to resources, inefficient infrastructure, poor governance, etc.—can incentivize innovative business activity that beneficially addresses these needs. However, much more needs to be done in many markets to foster Sustainable Entrepreneurship. Businesses, governments, NGOs, and other societal groups need to work together to create the policy environments, incentives, and rewards needed to make Sustainable Entrepreneurship an appealing path for any business or individual.
In your opinion, to what extent is it possible to reconcile being economically successful with creating added value for society?
When businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs elongate their timescale for return-on-investment (ROI), economic success and societal value can become more naturally compatible. Unfortunately, a cultural of short-termism has permeated business culture and drives investment decisions. Luckily, however, governments, consumers and businesses are realizing that in order for economies to thrive amidst growing social and ecological challenges, they must create conditions—or ecosystems—conducive to sustainability; business environments in which economic success and societal value are intrinsically linked.
Which sectors do you think are doing the most in terms of Sustainable Entrepreneurship, and which have a lot of catching up to?
A combination of forces—resource constraints, over-extended energy grids, global warming, rising consumer energy prices, etc.—have created compatible incentives for Sustainable Entrepreneurship in the energy sector. In many markets, there is both available financing and enough consumer demand (or at least interest) to make Sustainable Entrepreneurship viable. However, every sector has its leaders and laggards and the progress made by the leaders in one area of sustainability can often be cancelled out by the laggards in the same or a different area of sustainability (even when they are different departments of the same company!)
What has to be done to gain more awareness in society and economy? Politics, industry, society - who should be the driving force for the development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
In order to raise awareness, governments, industry and civil society groups must work together to create an ecosystem more conducive to Sustainable Entrepreneurship. This means creating incentive structures to promote sustainable decision making, providing capacity building, creating a legislative environment that enables and promotes the development of sustainable enterprises, and providing opportunities for NGOs, policy makers and business to combine resources in pursuit of compatible goals. The first step in this process is bringing leaders from each sector together in pursuit of mutual interests. The SE-Awards is a leading example of how to do this.
How would you judge Germany's position in the development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
Overall, Germany is fairly progressive in terms of sustainability. Sustainability concepts—conservation, work-life balance, energy efficiency, etc.—have been noticeably integrated into infrastructure, policy decisions, business management, and culture. While Germany is advanced in terms of sustainability, its risk-averse society inhibits entrepreneurial activity. The dramatic innovations and actions we need to change the destructive elements of our systems and economies are uncertain. We do not always know what we need or how to best implement change. This uncertainty cannot prevent people from taking action. Germany must learn to embrace and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit—including the inevitable failures—if it is to become a leader in Sustainable Entrepreneurship.
The SEA honors projects that are outstanding examples of Sustainable Entrepreneurship. What persuaded you to personally support this idea?
The SEA provides a much needed bridge between mainstream, popular culture and a niche sustainability community. Because the sustainability dialogue has become so common for some, many people often forget that these issues are foreign to majority of people across the globe. Instead of denouncing pop-culture, the SEA leverages its appeal to promote individuals and initiatives that truly deserve to be celebrated.
In what way can each and every one of us contribute towards increasing the relevance of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
If we are to create an economy where financial profit is more closely tied to socio-ecological profit, actors in every industry and across all sectors must consider how they can enable, promote, or scale-up sustainable enterprises. While some may have resources to contribute to initiatives, others may be able to provide the social validation and reinforcement leading entrepreneurs need. Everyone has a small role to play and it is the combination of all these roles—rather than the actions of anyone individual or sector—that will catalyze long standing change.