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Frank-Martin Belz

Chair of Corporate Sustainability, Technische Universität München - TUM School of Management

As professor on the TU Munich you teach and research in the field of sustainable innovation and sustainable marketing. What value has sustainable entrepreneurship in the higher educational and educational field?

Entrepreneurship in general and sustainable entrepreneurship in particular is gaining visibility and legitimacy in higher education programs all over Europe.

Perhaps more importantly, though, a growing number of young people are passionate about starting their own business with a social or environmental purpose. They want to have a positive impact on their community and even the world at large. As such, there is an increasing recognition that our educational systems need to provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge to do so.

Why do we need sustainable entrepreneurship?

Quite simply, for a brighter future. Sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship will play a vital role in helping our societies and economies to transition from a model of unsustainable production and consumption to a more sustainable one.

How deeply rooted do you think this way of thinking already is in society, especially in the minds of entrepreneurs?

By means of information and education, many are aware of the complex challenges facing our world today, from poverty to climate change. However, if we want to close the gap between consciousness and action, we also have to change the system and set the prices right, i.e. by providing economic incentives which encourage individuals and institutions to adopt more socially and ecologically sustainable behavior.

Seemingly, the subject of sustainable entrepreneurship, in general, has gained importance through the economic crisis. Do you share this opinion? Why is it, that crises often leads to changes of attitude in the economy, as well as in politics and society?

The financial, economic and social crises have made people aware that the entire system is not sustainable, and that deep change will be needed to rebalance our current way of life. We have seen a lot of new sustainable ventures founded in the aftermath. This is a good sign and ray of hope.

Every year the SEA awards prizes for exceptional projects that put sustainable entrepreneurship into practice. What persuaded you to support this idea?

The SEA offers a great opportunity for us to put our research on sustainable entrepreneurship into practice. By sharing our insights with the wider SEA community, we hope to make a real impact and help to advance this dynamic, exciting agenda.

EU-Innovate is the new strategic partner to the SEA and in the course of this collaboration you and your Team will create the assessment criteria for the Jury-selection process of the SEA 2015.  What are the challenges with this?

The main challenge is to evaluate the triple bottom line of new sustainable ventures. Pursuing the triple bottom line is not an easy proposition and there are many trade-offs. For example: Are new sustainable ventures with a good cause also economically viable in the long run? Do they have to make compromises in terms of social and ecological issues to survive in the short term? If we can better understand how new sustainable ventures emerge and thrive, we will be able to create the conditions for many more to develop in the future.

You are the director of the EU-InnovatE-Program from the European commission, which we won as partner to the SEA as well. What is this program about and what aims do you have with it?

We want to investigate the role of users in creating new sustainable innovations and enterprises. We see a great potential for the transition to a green economy in Europe to happen, if users are empowered to lead and inspire change.

What advantages has the collaboration between the SEA and the EU-InnovatE-Program?

EU-Innovate conduct large-scale research on sustainable entrepreneurship and the prospects for sustainable lifestyles in Europe by 2050, thanks to a major grant from the European Commission. The strategic partnership with SEA provides a great opportunity to put our latest results into practice and make a difference in Europe and beyond. It is a perfect win-win situation. 

Politics, industry, society - who should be the driving force for the development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?

As usual there is not a single driver: it is a question of shared responsibility. Entrepreneurs have to create new sustainable products and services to make a change. Politicians have to set up the right systems and incentives for new sustainable ventures (e.g. information, finance) to make the transition come true.

How can it be prevented, that SE-measures are „Greenwashing“?

A close look at the triple bottom line of economic, ecological and social goals is vital. I believe that greenwashing does not pay off in the long run, especially in the modern world which is highly connected, digital and transparent.

And lastly, a personal question: Which is the most memorable SE project you've ever heard of - and why?

Since I am a new member of the SEA jury, I would like to provide an answer to this question in the near future, namely after the 2015 review and selection process. Please feel free to ask me again at the gala awards ceremony in November!