Dr. Peter Vogel, CH
What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean to you personally?
For me, sustainable entrepreneurship means that the entrepreneur(s) establish new ventures not only with the aim of taking advantage of a momentary opportunity on the market place but instead plan ahead holistically to both establish and grow a sustainable venture. This holds particularly true with respect to environmental and societal causes (i.e., not destroying more than is being created). Consequently, I believe that sustainable entrepreneurship needs to become the gold standard when talking about new venture creation.
What do you think, how firmly rooted is Sustainable Entrepreneurship already in people's thinking and, above all, in the actions of entrepreneurs?
I feel that the concept of sustainable entrepreneurship is, alongside others such as social entrepreneurship, are widely used (and unfortunately in many cases abused). Sustainability has been on the agenda (and marketing strategies) of both incumbent firms as well as novice ventures. In my observation, younger founders (i.e., Millenials or Digital Natives) have a more intuitive and inclusive approach towards sustainability and global awareness as compared to previous generations. This is certainly a good thing given that an entire generation of entrepreneurs are just now entering the market place that see the planet as a shared environment among all humans as well as other species. More specifically, I can observe this shared global responsibility among my fellow Sandboxers or World Economic Forum Global Shapers. In that this new breed of global leaders enters the world of work, I am convinced that we can collectively achieve that a sustainable way of thinking and doing things will become THE way of life.
What political developments will be expected regarding CSR?
First of all I would like to point out that I personally see CSR as being something systematically different from sustainable entrepreneurship. While sustainable entrepreneurship is related to novice ventures, CSR is a specific strategy that incumbent firms employ to take on social responsibility. However, given that the question is focused on CSR, let me address CSR.
I see a large discrepancy among firms with CSR strategies (or even departments). While some of them actually do what they promise, others seem to still see it as a need-to-have marketing vehicle in order to “speak to” the next generation of sustainable and conscious customers. So, by nature, CSR is something that is company-specific and therefore cannot be systematically imposed or regulated easily from the outside. However, where policymakers can and should be involved is setting up an internationally standardized monitoring system to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of CSR activities.
How will the discussions around the CSR-reporting duty affect companies?
As briefly touched upon above, I see great variety among all CSR strategies that have been established over the past decades. While some industries (i.e., textiles, mining, oil, etc.) must certainly be monitored more closely, simply because of the threats emerging for society as a whole in case of non-compliance, others can have less severe impacts on the planet and society and in my understanding should not have to follow the same type of reporting (i.e., service ventures). Consequently, I believe that if such a duty is institutionalized, one must not employ a “one size fits all” approach but instead an industry-specific approach.
Which sectors do you think are doing the most in terms of Sustainable Entrepreneurship, and which have a lot of catching up to?
Again, we need to be careful not to mix up CSR and sustainable entrepreneurship. Let me answer with respect to new ventures (i.e. those that have just been established or are currently being established). Without having any scientific data on the industry distribution, I do see a lot of high-tech ventures that seek to address global matters related to sustainability. Certainly some of the hot areas that are being increasingly researched (and where new ventures are spun-out from top-tier technology universities around the world) are energy & climate, healthiness & living (in particular urban living), logistics and mobility, education, and of course the labor market for the next generation.
You founded the organization „The Entrepreneurs’ Ship®“. What role does „Entrepreneurs’ Ship®“ play regarding the development of sustainable economic activities?
I started The Entrepreneurs’ Ship® 2 years ago. Our primary goal is to ensure a healthy labor market for tomorrow’s youth by establishing functional and healthy entrepreneurship ecosystems around the world. We help governments (national and regional) as well as universities in developing entrepreneurship promotion strategies and establish programs to turn these strategies into reality. Based on our unique understanding of the different factors and actors of entrepreneurial ecosystems, we can fully tailor our programs to the local context. In that we ensure knowledge transfer to local agents, we ensure the sustainable operation in the long run.
When looking at the combination of the current youth unemployment crisis and the fact that early unemployment (i.e., in the first years of a person’s professional life) leaves particularly deep and non-repairable scars, we develop both short-term (for today’s youth) and long-term (for tomorrow’s youth) strategies to sustainably tackle youth unemployment through the promotion of both entrepreneurship and self-employment.
In what way can each and every one of us contribute towards increasing the relevance of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
I guess the “easiest” thing to do is to think about the big problems in the world that need to be fixed (the “need-to-be-fixed” and not the “nice-to-be-fixed”) and figure out how to tackle them not only in the short-term but also for the generations to come (i.e., long-term). Some of these problems include, but are not limited to, natural resources, urban planning, energy management, social development, inequality, population dynamics, education, combating diseases, the labor market.
How would you judge Switzerland's position in the development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship?
Again I cannot judge based on any scientific data or a solid comparison with other countries. However, I believe that Switzerland (and its entrepreneurs) is doing a pretty good job in that it not only thinks about quick-win success stories (i.e., the low-hanging fruit opportunities) but also the more challenging (but also rewarding) high-hanging fruit opportunities. Moreover, it feels like there is a high level of trust within the Swiss market and that ventures think about their impact on the region (i.e., by creating sustainable employment opportunities) or on society as a whole.
I see two particular strengths of the Swiss startup ecosystem with regards to the sustainability agenda: First of all, family businesses form one of the cornerstones of the Swiss economy. By definition, these are meant to endure hypes and have a long-lasting influence on the region. Second, Switzerland has a long tradition of organizations that tackle global societal challenges (i.e., the International Red Cross). Consequently, it feels like many people consistently think about societal and sustainability issues in their everyday lives. But again, I can neither rank nor systematically compare it with other countries. These are just a few of my personal impressions.
What advantages do companies have that implement Sustainable Entrepreneurship respectively integrate SE in their core business?
This brings me back to my previous argument that we need to systematically differentiate between CSR and Sustainable Entrepreneurship. But let me answer this question a bit differently (or re-formulate the question: “What can existing companies do to become more entrepreneurial and at the same time focus on sustainability, and which benefits do companies have that achieve in doing so?”
To address the first question: I am convinced that incumbent firms can learn a lot from entrepreneurship in that they integrate entrepreneurial approaches into their everyday business activities (i.e., Intrapreneurship). In collaboration with Ursula Fischler-Strasak (who was so kind to invite me to join that project and who is the reason why I am now a SEA endorser), we wrote a book chapter on how to build sustainable intrapreneurial innovation ecosystems within existing firms. This chapter is part of the recently published book entitled ’Sustainable Entrepreneurship. Business Success through Sustainability’.
With regards to the second question: I am convinced that those companies that achieve in building functional intrapreneurial ecosystems and in particular those that incorporate a sustainability agenda will be the ones that will dominate the market place in 50 years from now. We are facing a systematic re-thinking of “how to do business” and I cannot imagine that companies that do not innovate (that is as close as existing firms get to entrepreneurship) and that do not put sustainability on top of their priorities list, will exist in the future.
Your are currently writing on the topic „Social Entrepreneurship“. What is the content about and what are the goals of the new publication?
The book “Social Entrepreneurs @ Work” (www.socialentrepreneursatwork.com) aims at showcasing social entrepreneurship from around the world, openly discussing and analyzing the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship and providing hands-on practical guidance for the next generation of social entrepreneurs. It is meant as both, an informative book about the concept of social entrepreneurship and its role in society, as well as an easy-to-read book with inspiring stories from novice and established social entrepreneurs from all around the world.
I am currently also writing another book (www.generationjobless.eu) that is discussing the youth labor market crisis and discusses creative solutions from around the world that have been implemented to tackle youth unemployment. This book will be published in early 2015.
The SEA honors projects that are outstanding examples of Sustainable Entrepreneurship. What persuaded you to personally support this idea?
I believe that a sustainable approach to any type of venture activity (may it be in the form of starting a new venture as an entrepreneur or in the form of managing an existing company) is a necessity in our days. Given that I am actively involved in supporting entrepreneurship in general I see this as the perfect fit.
And lastly, a personal question: Which is the most memorable SE project you've ever heard of - and why?
There are of course a lot of really interesting projects that could be mentioned in this regards. I therefore want to answer in a rather unconventional manner. Instead of pointing out individual companies I want to highlight technological revolutions that have made a sustainable impact on our society as a whole. Take, for example, video conferencing. In the past (quite a bit in the past as this technology has been around for a while), people had to travel by plane, train or car in order to see each other for meetings. , this can now be done comfortably from the office. Of course this is not at all a novel technology. However, I still see this as a representative example of such a technological invention that helps mankind make use of the planets’ resources in a more sustainable fashion.