Title: Pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship: How do they relate with other enterprises
Authors: Molderez, Ingrid
Issue Date: 14-Sep-2011
Conference: The role of governments in the business and society debate location:Brussels date:14 September 2011
Abstract: This paper looks at how pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship influence other enterprises and how government can help in this process. The analysis is inspired by Hockerts and Wüstenhagen (2010). Schaltegger (2002, p.46) describes the importance of pioneers/innovators as follows: „Innovations can alter the economy and society fundamentally. Cars, computers and the Internet have changed the world in a more fundamental way than have most political programs‟. Finding a proper definition for a pioneer is not simple. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (Simpson & Weiner, 1991, p.883) a pioneer is ‘one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow; one who begins, or takes part in beginning, some enterprise, course of action etc’. Pioneers in corporate social responsibility (CSR) play an important role because of their leadership and precedent role in innovation and everything that deals with sustainability. The power of the pioneer is that he demonstrates that CSR is economically attractive (Bouckaert, Boulogne, Sas, Van Liedekerke, Vercaeren & Vloeberg, 2008). Therefore, they can fulfill an important role on other enterprises. Bouckaert et. al (2008) define a pioneer as someone who explores new possibilities, who does groundbreaking work. Other words are icebreaker, innovator or trailblazer. It can be seen that incumbent enterprises tend to become more sustainable the last decades. In this movement towards sustainability, an important factor is the influence of pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship, which can be defined as enterprises that introduce sustainability in a way the market hasn’t seen before. This article researches whether there is an influence of pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship on other enterprises in becoming more sustainable. Case studies of six pioneers in different sectors are analyzed. This provides us with a view on the relevance of pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship. Cases are: De Duurzame Drukker (the Sustainable Printer), Desso, Ecopower, Ecover, GreenPan, and Green Gastronomy. Nine important factors have been found that enhance influence of the pioneers: values and persuasion; education, sensitizing and lectures; relationship with suppliers; get out of the niche markets; work together; successful business model; show that sustainable enterprises work; same price while sustainable and no way back to ensure credibility. The cases show that pioneers have an influence and provoke a reaction of other enterprises, making them more sustainable. Other enterprises start behaving more sustainable, produce bad greenwashed copies, wait and see or just do nothing. This reaction could however be just in a small part influenced by pioneers, as other factors can also be of importance. When we take a look at pioneers, they start doing business in a sustainable way because they want it themselves, not because a competitor has shown that it is profitable. Pioneering takes too much risk to fit the strategic view. Pioneers are rather value driven and thus altruistic, hence they can be important to influence the market and strategic entrepreneurs because of an increase in sustainable products. Through sustainable innovation, not only qualitative sustainable products are being put into the market. Also the enterprises that implement sustaibable innovation make the rest of the sector more sustainable. Crals and Vereeck (2004) state that sustainable entrepreneurship is applied mostly by large companies. The selected cases however contradict this, because most of the discussed pioneers are in fact SMEs, even small companies. This shows that all enterprises can act responsible and even be a pioneer in sustainable entrepreneurship. The things that pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship have in common however are numerous: driven by values, a big persuasiveness and perseverance, pioneers have an influence on other enterprises and the market that cannot be neglected. An important role is educating, sensitizing and giving lectures. This way, knowledge can be spread. Telling much about their R&D activities is a bridge too far however. A good relationship with suppliers is an important asset that helps sustainable entrepreneurs doing business. In order to reach consumers, getting out of the niche and position in the mass market is important. Working together with others helps doing this. Pioneers show that they have a good business model and soon become fixed values within their sector. They show that it is possible to be a sustainable enterprise, and that it is possible to get somewhere where others never went before. Once pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship have taken the lead, they tend to keep it for a while because pioneers are very driven and enjoy a great amount of know-how. When sustainability is value driven, with a good history and credibility, it becomes an extra asset to the product and sells better. All these assets provoke a reaction of the competitors. Four different reactions can be seen: becoming more sustainable, copying and pasting some characteristics of the product, wait and see or just do nothing. For the selected cases, these reactions were seen one by one for all pioneers. There is no clear proof that the stimulus to become more sustainable is entirely driven by the pioneers. The case studies indicate though that they at least have some influence, one that cannot be neglected. In current society where sustainability is becoming more and more important, pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship pave the way for other enterprises, incumbents as well as small companies and start-ups. By influencing the mass market through sustainable innovation, the sustainable innovation gets diffused. Socially responsible entrepreneurs often willingly share their business experiences with other aspiring entrepreneurs. Sustainable innovation means nothing without being diffused into the market and bought by consumers. Looking at how innovation is being diffused provides us with a closer look at how pioneers in sustainable entrepreneurship relate to other enterprises. Being a role model can be a priority and an important measure of success (Choi et al., 2008). The cases have also shown that the government can help in this sustainable business process, but government is not necessarily needed. These entrepreneurs are so much convinced of the need of a sustainable process that they will continue, with or without help. When looking back at the model by Hockerts and Wüstenhagen (2010), this article confirms that sustainability start ups influence market incumbents. Coming from or starting in a niche market, they gain market share and make incumbents aware of sustainability. Through this movement, the industry is transformed sustainably. The model is however just a part of the reality, and only when successful companies are being dealt with. Not all companies will be as successful to gain market share, some are willing and happy to stay in the niche market. Real pioneers will rather keep the lead compared with the incumbents, even if they are caught up like Ecover, there will still be a difference, but in small detail. Companies like Desso were never part of the niche sustainability market, but are still able to influence others on sustainability. We see that sustainable industry starts with so called Davids but is brought about by the interaction between Davids and Goliaths.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Research Centre for Economics and Corporate Sustainability, Campus Brussels
Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) - miscellaneous

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