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Dr. Catlin Powers

Chairman of the SEA jury, Co-Founder & CEO One Earth Designs and Programm Leader Center for Health & the Global Environment Harvard University

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

By bringing together leading business people, governments, and thought leaders to celebrate leading solutions to today’s most pressing environmental challenges, the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award has the potential to significantly accelerate positive change.

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

I joined the Jury of the SEA in order to participate in pioneering the next evolution of global business, towards companies that use innovation not only to generate profit but to benefit people and planet as well. 

What does sustainable entrepreneurship mean to you personally?

Sustainable entrepreneurship means building businesses that create value for people and planet while also generating profit.

Why do we need sustainable entrepreneurship?

I see sustainable entrepreneurship as a critical evolutionary step for the business community. The long-term survival and profitability of our businesses depends on the well being of our customers. For the past 200 years, businesses have been legally required to maximize profit every quarter or else risk being sued by their shareholders. During this time, it has become clear that maximizing profit on such a short time scale limits long-term business profitability and negatively impacts people through the externalization of costs associated with resource extraction and health-threatening pollution. Sustainable entrepreneurs show us that internationally successful businesses that benefit people and planet as well as bank balances are not only possible but also preferable for all.

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

Sustainable entrepreneurship is a new concept in many regions of the world, but it is slowly gaining traction.

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?

Crises mean that we’re faced with a challenge that we don’t have an easy solution for. This opens the opportunity to envision and implement completely new solutions. In a crisis situation, awareness of problems spreads as, by necessity, we start sourcing ideas from new people and opening opportunities for people with different ideas to work together towards under time pressure towards a common solution. The renaissance of thought that such situations engender both fuel awareness and can sometimes lead to fundamental paradigm shifts towards a better way of life.

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

Politics, industry, and society all play critical roles in driving sustainable entrepreneurship and all influence one another, but industry has the most potential for rapid, large-scale impact. Consumers are asking for more Earth-friendly products. As corporate leaders, we face both the responsibility and the opportunity to deliver them.

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

The single most important action we can take to contribute towards increasing the relevance of sustainable entrepreneurship is to purchase and adopt the innovations put forth by sustainable entrepreneurs. This small action can have massive impact via our collective engagement. The world needs demonstrations of successful triple bottom line businesses. We still have time to use our own daily practices and purchases to tip the global scale towards a healthy and prosperous future for humans here on Earth.

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

We can avoid green washing by instituting rigorous sustainability certifications with transparent reporting.