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Stefan Grafenhorst

Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility Manager Greiner Group

The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award (SEA) showcases exceptional projects in the area of sustainability. What do you think of this initiative?

Innovations do not come out of the blue. They are the result of persistent work, people thinking out of the box and making an effort to choose the path less travelled. I think society as a whole needs to encourage and support those people wherever possible. The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award is one important way of supporting new ideas that will make this world a better place. That is why we at Greiner are a proud partner of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award. We are convinced that this initiative has the potential to promote long-lasting solutions to social and environmental challenges across the world.

What was your reason for joining the jury of the SEA?

I strongly believe that we need to systematically change how we do business. We fundamentally need to re-think our business models. The Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award aims to push for the change that is needed. Therefore, I could not think of a more exciting or ambitious role than being part of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award jury.

What does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

Over the last two decades, globalisation and digitalisation have brought massive improvements and have increased living standard for hundreds of millions of people. At the same time, phenomena like inequality, urbanisation, social instability or environmental harms such as climate change have emerged. For me personally, sustainable entrepreneurship is the main element of these challenges and the key for a bright 21st century.

Why do we need sustainable entrepreneurship?

Traditional business models obviously do not provide us with the solutions needed to tackle the global challenges we are confronted with. The example of the developing world in Africa demonstrates that sustainable entrepreneurship is needed more than ever. The “trickle-down effect”, where wealth generated by traditional businesses for the few would generate a ‘win-win-situation’ by supposedly providing wealth for all – too long the source of false hope – has not happened. I believe sustainable entrepreneurship can be the answer here.

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

Sustainable behaviour and reflections on sustainability are no longer just an issue for ‘eco-warriors’ or fringe activists. Sustainability is mainstream. Thanks to the digital revolution, the environmental and social consequences of what we do are no longer a secret. No one can claim ignorance. This development makes me very optimistic. It creates pressure and incentives at the same time.

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?

I am convinced that every crisis offers opportunities to the wise. I agree that the current environmental and social crisis opens new doors in terms of fresh-thinking, higher risk-taking and change that is more fundamental. I think that, more than ever, people are aware that we have reached a crucial point. It is a bit like now or never. The question is: do we unplug the planet or will the planet unplug us?

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

I doubt that there is the one driving force for change. The development of sustainable entrepreneurship will be a common challenge and there is a long way to go. Politics will surely play a role in terms of setting the legislative framework. At the same time, traditional industry players need to re-think their business models, and society and consumers need to reflect on their consumer behaviour. Different things need to come together.

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

Consumers and citizens have a tremendous power. Their behaviour can reward sustainable thinking and penalise obsolete business models. I think education and raising awareness are important. Civil society plays a crucial role here. That is why the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award is such a valuable initiative.

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

There are certainly entrepreneurs out there that do not take sustainability seriously. They see it as a PR tool and do not understand the fundamental change that is required and the true opportunities of sustainable entrepreneurship. Those organisations will be exposed eventually. They will not be chosen by consumers, and finally be left out by suppliers and put under pressure by their own employees. It will also have the effect of stigmatising the organisation in the eyes of the public.