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Othmar Karas, AT

European People’s Party Group vice-chair, MEP

The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award (sea), presented by the Club of sustainable entrepreneurs – Verein für nachhaltiges Wirtschaften, showcases exceptional projects in the area of sustainability. What do you think of this initiative?


 For me, the European dimension of this prize is very important. In a globalised world, social engagement and sustainability do not stop at national borders. Companies have been active across Europe and worldwide for a long time, so we don’t just need national and regional awards for CSR, but Europe-wide awards that facilitate benchmarking and comparison within Europe. This allows people to learn from other companies throughout the continent, to discover social and sustainable innovations and examples of best practice.


What does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?


Sustainable entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility are about companies making a contribution to sustainable development – development that allows for the needs of future generations. They are the eco-social market economy in action.


Why do we need sustainable entrepreneurship?


Sustainable entrepreneurship and CSR are necessary in order for companies to implement structured and systematic accountability in these areas, by introducing social and environmental criteria to corporate strategy as a whole. Sustainability is a vital component of success for European companies, as well as a decisive factor in the future of Europe and the world.


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


I think there is still a lot of room for improvement here. Even though many companies are addressing the issue, or at least talking about it, it still isn’t mainstream in business or in politics. The SEA is intended to encourage companies and politicians to be more decisive about following this path, and to elevate responsible business leadership that takes sustainability seriously to a higher level – to a level where sustainability and CSR are strategically planned, implemented and utilised, and not just talked about. To encourage the shift from words to actions. Doing what one says creates credibility and trust.


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 business, as well as in politics and society?


The crisis showed that, in many areas, the mainstream way of doing things is not sustainable enough and that a deficit of responsible behaviour caused the crisis, and unfortunately continues to exacerbate it. We can learn from crises, as long as we draw the correct conclusions. Therefore, we need to take advantage of the crisis, to adjust, regulate and change our economic and social models. I am certain that the changes to come will be much more in the direction of sustainability and responsible conduct in business, politics and society.


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


Every business carries responsibility within its sphere of influence, regardless of the sector it is in, its nationality or its size. Within different business sectors and countries, there are shining examples of sustainability, as well as irresponsible and unsustainable companies. To me, it’s important that doing business sustainably and responsibly is not a disadvantage, but presents advantages to companies and their employees.


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


All of them together. We need to combine forces, because only then will we arrive at solutions that are workable over the long term – and at European, regional and national levels. The new economic and social order will be distinguished by real cooperations.


In what way can each and every one of us contribute towards increasing the relevance of sustainable entrepreneurship?


By viewing oneself and others critically, by reflecting on whether one’s own day-to-day dealings and decisions are sustainable, and by asking, “What can I do to make a personal contribution?”


How can sustainable entrepreneurship measures be prevented from being nothing more than greenwashing? Which internal measures and methods must be applied?


Genuine steps and action on the part of companies and their stakeholders prevent greenwashing per se. But we also need a critical civil society, which pillories greenwashing and values and highlights good examples, as the SEA is doing.


What role do employees play in the process of sustainable entrepreneurship?


Employees have one of the most important functions, because sustainability measures are usually implemented by employees. However, it is also important that management sets a good example and provides encouragement for engagement with sustainability.