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Marisa Mühlböck, AT

Managing director of the Julius Raab Foundation

The sea showcases exceptional sustainable entrepreneurial activities. What does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

 

For me, a sustainable entrepreneurial approach is when companies see themselves as ‘corporate citizens’, as an integral part of society. Corporate citizens actively and voluntarily tackle social issues by means of their business activities. They endeavour to make positive contributions to society for the sake of common welfare – but always in association with their core business. It is a matter of course that the corporate processes and structures along the entire value creation chain are based on responsible behaviour.

 

Why do we need sustainable entrepreneurship?

 

Because a lot of the social challenges can only be faced with collaborative solutions in the 21st century. Governments alone do not have the answer to all problems. Many issues require an entrepreneurial approach, and this is where companies should bring in their knowhow and their strengths.

 

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

 

There are several surveys that deal with ethical consumer behaviour, and some of the findings are disillusioning. Still, I’m convinced that awareness of this topic is on the rise. But in this area, in particular, politicians are called on to draw much more attention to responsible entrepreneurship and its positive impact on society. There’s still a lot of potential in this regard. For example, a recent survey carried out by our foundation shows that more than 70 percent of Austrian companies would like more recognition and more awareness-raising support from the Austrian administration.

As far as industry goes, there are hardly any companies left that are not tackling (or need to tackle) the issue of assuming responsibility for society. The question that remains is: How many companies succeed in creating a win-win situation for both themselves AND for society?

 

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, politics and society?

 

Schumpeter spoke of ‘creative destruction’. Major crises often have the potential even to destabilise institutions – whether with a positive or negative effect cannot be foreseen. Entrepreneurial commitment doesn’t seem to have abated, in Austria, at least. This was also confirmed by our study. Companies are now very much aware of the fact that their role has changed in the wake of the financial and economic crisis and will continue to change. Of all the members of society, they are most used to reacting flexibly to change. One could say they are predisposed to assuming responsibility and combining it with business success – and to act as role models. But we need to have confidence in them, and create the right framework conditions.

 

Which sectors do you think are doing the most in terms of sustainable entrepreneurship, and which have a lot of catching up to do?

 

That question doesn’t have a simple answer. Every sector has to face its own challenges. If I’m in the manufacturing industry, I have to deal with different issues along the value creation chain than, say, in the finance industry or services sector. And as far as corporate social responsibility goes, the following holds true: competition within a sector always speeds up development.

 

Which role can and should politics play – both at the Austrian and at the EU level?

 

Firstly, the government should acknowledge companies as partners in solving social problems. It can create a framework, particularly by raising citizens’ awareness of exemplary corporate social commitment. Furthermore, there is a whole range of incentives – from a distinction for the commitment, and fiscal advantages, to embedding certain criteria for public procurement. This last measure is particularly complex, but I don’t think that’s reason enough to avoid discussing it. The government must discuss it if it attaches importance to positive entrepreneurial effects on society.

 

To what extent can the Julius Raab Foundation involve itself?

 

We regard freedom and responsibility as the fundamental principles in a social market economy – even in the 21st century. But we can only maintain freedom if we assume responsibility for our actions and their consequences. This applies both to entrepreneurial freedom and to political or individual freedom. This is why we are trying to push the issue of corporate responsibility and spread the message. We have just completed the first part of a big research project on corporate citizenship with the participation of more than 400 companies from all of Austria. In the next phase, we will take a closer look at the entrepreneurial activities in the various provinces. We intend to talk to the various target groups about the development and potential of corporate social responsibility.