Eco-entrepreneurship as a response to sustainability and climate challenges: What have we learnt and where do we go from here?
We are currently facing a global climate crisis. A rapid response to counter climate emergency and reduce environmental degradation is important to ensure a safer, healthier and sustainable future. An increasing number of individuals, institutions and government bodies worldwide are convinced of the need to reduce the negative impact of economic activity on the climate and the environment. Indicative of this, more than 300,000 organizations in 171 countries have attained ISO 14001 certifications, close to 190 parties are among the signatories of the Paris Agreement, and ‘Fridays for future’ protests have spread across the globe. These are important initiatives in which governments, large corporations, SMEs and entrepreneurial ventures, and concerned citizens are taking part. Moreover, as we mark the 5th anniversary of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important to note that social entrepreneurs, sustainable entrepreneurs and most importantly, eco-entrepreneurs are also playing an active role in solving climate, ecological and environmental challenges while educating the public and creating new customer bases for eco-friendly products and services. SDGs are therefore an effective umbrella, especially the ones that focus on ecological or environmental issues, in appreciating the importance of eco-entrepreneurship today. Finally, eco-entrepreneurship is also gaining importance in light of emergencies like the bio-diversity crisis (e.g. David Attenborough’s recent movie: A Life on Our Planet) and indeed the COVID-19 crisis.
Eco-entrepreneurship has been, in its modern form, on the agenda for about two decades now. Numerous academic papers and a few special issues (e.g. Demirel et al., 2019; Schaper, 2002) on eco-entrepreneurship have been published, both in existing journals and newly established journals. Even though eco-entrepreneurs find and create market opportunities in the current global context (Schaltegger, 2002) and the body of literature is growing, there is still a lack of consensus regarding the nature and definition of eco-entrepreneurship. The term eco-entrepreneurship is used interchangeably with social, sustainable, environmental, and green entrepreneurship to cover all things related to the environmental impact of economic activity and entrepreneurship. When this happens, the drivers, processes, and outcomes of eco-entrepreneurship and other forms of entrepreneurship become muddled. Therefore, there is a need to better understand eco-entrepreneurship at the micro-level, meso-level and macro-level.
We understand eco-entrepreneurship as a contraction of the concepts of ‘ecology’ and ‘entrepreneurship’. ‘Ecology’ refers to dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their physical environment. ‘Entrepreneurship’ is ‘the creation, discovery, and exploitation of value-adding opportunities’ (Masurel, 2019, p. 16). Therefore, eco-entrepreneurship can be defined as a multi-level process that deals with the discovery, creation and exploitation of entrepreneurial opportunities that arise from ecologically relevant institutional voids, market failures or market opportunities. This notion of providing entrepreneurial solutions to ecological problems focuses on economic and environmental value creation, which in turn creates economic and non-economic gains for the society and the environment. We can also say that eco-entrepreneurs operate in the realm of profit, social good, and environmental protection.
Even though we see eco-entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable entrepreneurship as closely related concepts, we note the key differences and overlaps. Eco-entrepreneurship is different from social entrepreneurship where the latter has been defined as “a process of identifying, evaluating and exploiting opportunities aiming at social value creation by means of commercial, market-based activities and of the use of a wide range of resources” (Bacq and Janssen, 2011, p. 388). Furthermore, most definitions of social entrepreneurship highlight the hybrid nature of these ventures that combine a primary social mission with a secondary mission achieved through commercial activities (Mitra et al., 2017, 2019; Saebi et al., 2019). On the other hand, sustainable entrepreneurship is defined as “preservation of nature, life support, and community in the pursuit of perceived opportunities to bring into existence future products, processes, and services for gain, where gain is broadly construed to include economic and non-economic gains to individuals, the economy, and society” (Shepherd and Patzelt, 2011, p. 137). In the process, sustainable entrepreneurs pursue a triple embedded view by holistically integrating social, environmental and economic goals with the aim to develop a sustainable world for future generations (Muñoz and Cohen, 2018; Tilley and Young, 2009). The key difference between eco-entrepreneurship on the one hand, and social and sustainable entrepreneurship on the other hand, is that eco-entrepreneurship focuses deliberately (or exclusively) on environmental, green or ecological issues while social and sustainable entrepreneurship have a broader focus. Here, social entrepreneurship pursues social issues, which may or may not be directly related to the environment whereas sustainable entrepreneurship pursues a balance between profit, environmental issues and social or community impact against the backdrop of running a business. The key overlap between these three forms of entrepreneurship lies in the entrepreneurs’ motivation that goes beyond self-oriented or pecuniary goals to cover other-regarding goals (Hoogendoorn et al., 2010, 2019, 2020).
Furthermore, much of the scholarly energy has concentrated around social and sustainable entrepreneurship. The studies that do exist in the area of eco-entrepreneurship have mainly focused on the challenges faced by start-ups and small businesses operating in the eco-sector. For instance, eco-entrepreneurs face innovation challenges, especially when compared to large companies that receive financial backing (Demirel et al., 2019; Schick et al., 2002). Some empirical studies have pointed out the regulatory and policy challenges that they face at different phases of their business, which in turn pose a barrier to business growth (Ball and Kittler, 2019; Pastakia, 1998). A few other investigations have noted the market as a challenge, explaining that there is a lack of market awareness of eco, green and sustainable products and services. Moreover, consumer resistance results in consumers not being inclined to adopt a positive attitude towards such products (Linnanen, 2002; Paskatia, 2002). As a result, it is a challenge for the eco-entrepreneurs to remain motivated to pursue their case, which could further harm the reputation of the eco-venture (Dixon and Clifford, 2007). Furthermore, some studies have also highlighted the difficulty to obtain capital from investors that might not share the same objectives and values of the entrepreneur. Investors are often doubtful of the eco-entrepreneurs’ knowledge of finance, which makes it difficult for the entrepreneur to pitch novel business ideas based on environmental arguments (Bergset, 2015). Moreover, studies have highlighted that social, sustainable or eco-entrepreneurs’ motivation to make the world a better place often exceeds their desire to make money (Bergset, 2018; Hoogendoorn et al., 2019; Linnanen, 2002). Some other articles spotlight the innovative nature of this sector or the consequences induced by environmental measures and regulations (Hoogendoorn et al., 2020).
This Special Issue aims to deepen our knowledge of eco-entrepreneurship and chart a path for the future of eco-entrepreneurship theory and practice. Note that we will view the term eco-entrepreneurship as broadly synonymous with the terms green entrepreneurship and environmental entrepreneurship, but will use the term ‘eco-entrepreneurship’ throughout this call for papers. We also want to mention that we perceive eco-entrepreneurship as a narrower area than that of social or sustainable entrepreneurship. However, papers on these types of entrepreneurship that have a link with dealing with ecological, green, bio-diversity, environmental or climate-challenges, both as the venture’s main or side activity, are also welcome. For this Special Issue, we invite papers around the following non-exhaustive list of themes:
- There are potential overlaps between social, sustainable, and eco-entrepreneurship, yet, there are some key differences that draw a conceptual boundary between these forms of entrepreneurship. Submissions can focus on defining eco-entrepreneurship and solve the overlaps and differences through conceptual or empirical studies.
- A shared definition of environmental, green and eco-entrepreneurship seems to exist. However, there is no consensus on what we mean by these types of entrepreneurship, which further arrests the progress of this research avenue (Demirel et al., 2019; Shapira et al., 2014). This also leads to inconsistency in measuring their attributes. Papers for this Special Issue can focus on resolving such confusions.
Taking stock and looking ahead at the field of eco-entrepreneurship:
- Scholars are invited to conduct a systematic literature review and summarize the key articles and their findings (i.e. what have we learnt?).
- Conceptual studies can also contribute by commenting on the future research agenda of eco-entrepreneurship (i.e. where do we go from here?).
Eco-entrepreneurship as a multi-level process:
- At the micro-level or individual level, studies can investigate the eco-entrepreneur’s background, knowledge, skill-set, values and attitudes. Additionally, what motivates such individuals to pursue eco-entrepreneurship over other types of entrepreneurship such as social, sustainable or traditional entrepreneurship? What are the drivers, intentions and moral cognitions that trigger eco-entrepreneurship? What is the relationship between entrepreneurial self-efficacy and eco-entrepreneurship? How do eco-entrepreneurs overcome the tradeoffs between ecological and economic goals?
- Furthermore, at the micro-level, which includes both individual and firm level issues, the issue of how eco-entrepreneurs or eco-entrepreneurial ventures identify ecological market failures as entrepreneurial opportunities can also be explored. Additionally, what type of individuals or firms pursue eco-entrepreneurship?
- At the firm level, papers could also focus on ventures or SMEs that do not have a specific green mission (“not fully green”), yet contribute to cleaner production in their environment, will also be considered for this Special Issue. For example, the COVID-19 health crisis led some traditional ventures to step up and manufacture eco-friendly masks, shields and hand-sanitizers that resulted in cleaner and greener economic activities.
- At the meso-level, studies can examine whether clusters of organisations are utilizing eco-entrepreneurship, eco-intrapreneurship, eco-extrapreneurship or corporate eco-entrepreurship as a tool to achieve their ecological, environmental, green, social or sustainability agendas?
- At the macro level, studies can focus on the external barriers and dark-sides of eco-entrepreneurship. What are the conditions that stimulate or trigger eco-entrepreneurship? Are there formal and/or informal institutional influences on eco-entrepreneurship, and if yes, what are their impacts?
- We also welcome articles that examine eco-entrepreneurship as a multilevel phenomenon, for example, examining the effects of institutions, culture or investment patterns on decisions to launch, pursue or scale green ventures/eco-entrepreneurship. What are the process and developmental stages of eco-entrepreneurial ventures? What are the roles of other stakeholders such as lobby groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), venture capitalists, industry associations and local communities?
- Additionally, we also encourage submissions that clarify the context of eco-entrepreneurship by examining the stream of issues that eco-entrepreneurs deal with. We call for studies that identify, compare and contrast the relevant antecedents, processes, outcomes, and measures essential to data collection in order to conduct large scale research drawn from both developed and developing countries. Such studies can draw from regional differences in eco-entrepreneurship. Investigations could also study the influence of urban versus rural settings on eco-entrepreneurship.
Integration of research fields:
- Through this call, we also highlight the need to integrate relevant and related fields of research such as innovation studies, organizational design, human resource management or finance to answer research questions that are at the intersection of these fields. Thus, submissions can question, inform, and enrich the overall field of entrepreneurship and increase its applicability to not only other relevant disciplines, but also have implications for policy and practice.
Critical perspectives on eco-entrepreneurship:
- Studies taking a critical approach to unpack eco-entrepreneurship are also invited to contribute to this Special Issue. For example, reducing deforestation or preserving nature reserves can jeopardize the earnings of an entire community that practice farming on that land. Highlighting such cases can lead to exploring the perils, dark-sides and challenges associated to eco-entrepreneurship.
Other areas of study related to eco-entrepreneurship can also include:
- Finding/discovering versus creating opportunities for eco-entrepreneurship, such as persuading customers to change their views and buying behaviors.
- Measuring success or impact.
- Critique or suggestions on policy and practice.
- Financing options, such as crowdfunding, bootstrapping or government subsidies available or unavailable to eco-entrepreneurs.
- Pull versus push factors or self-oriented versus other-regarding factors in eco-entrepreneurship.
- Value creation: economic and environmental outcomes of eco-entrepreneurship.
- Balancing environmental scope and mass marketability of eco-entrepreneurial ventures.
- Conceptual, theoretical, qualitative and quantitative papers covering the key topic.
- Teaching Case studies, which should include a Teaching Note, are also invited (see Caffrey et al., 2020, for a recent example). In terms of impact, these are important as it helps get the topic into the classroom.
In conclusion, this Special Issue aims to include papers that contribute to this area of research by providing valuable insights for examining key issues within the context of eco-entrepreneurship. Through this call, we hope to enhance not only our understanding of eco-entrepreneurship, but also to integrate the scholarly energy of this emergent area to enhance the richness of the broader domain of entrepreneurship. We believe that eco-entrepreneurship is still at its adolescence with many challenges and opportunities ahead. It is our hope that this Special Issue will serve as a basis for further development of this promising area of research.
Other areas not listed above will be considered. Feel free to contact the Special Issue Editor with any queries.
Research papers, conceptual papers, (teaching) case studies and research commentaries are welcome. Papers which use traditional and emerging sources of data are both welcome.
Submission deadline: 31 October 2021 though submissions can be made earlier.
Manuscripts should be submitted by sending a single email which is addressed to all three Special Issue Editors:
Assistant Professor, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, United States. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Full Professor, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands. email: email@example.com
Assistant Professor, IESEG School of Management, Paris & Lille, France. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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