Sustainable Entrepreneurship


Sustainable entrepreneurship is when actors and companies contribute to sustainable development with their core businesses, providing benefit to the larger part of society. In 2007, Dean and McMullen defined the term as “the process of discovering, evaluating, and exploiting economic opportunities that are present in market failures which detract from sustainability, including those that are environmentally relevant”. Additionally, Cohen and Winn (2007) defined sustainable entrepreneurship based on Venkataraman (1997) as the examination of “how opportunities to bring into existence “future” goods and services are discovered, created and exploited by whom and with what economic psychological, social and environmental consequences”.  

The three dimensions of entrepreneurship, the social, economic and environmental, serve as interrelated subsets of the term sustainable entrepreneurship. The social aspect is directed towards achieving social change and making resources available to a wider public. The economic value creation is an essential to ensure financial viability while trying to minimize the negative impact that the industry has on the environment. 

According to Schape (2005), we need to evaluate our entrepreneurship activities as having a net positive effect on the environment, however, for him, the most important characteristic is ‘intentionality’ and the genuine interest that envisions a sustainable future. Nonetheless, Volery (2005) remarks that every sustainable entrepreneur must never forget that their greatest responsibility is the financial success of his/her business. 

Waller and Taylor (2005) describes two different types of influences in the choice of sustainable entrepreneurship: 

  • hard structural: economic profit, government regulation and market-driven demand from customers. 
  • soft structural: personal experience, private networks, education and/or advice from family and friends. 

Linnanen (2005) argues that the only distinction between sustainable and non-sustainable entrepreneurs is that they have an additional desire to improve the environment, besides making money.  

One of the most important things to take into account is the need for sustainable entrepreneurs to remain well informed on policy rules and regulations that are changing, as well as on financial write-off laws. It is important to have the most up-to-date knowledge to win customer’s confidence. 

There are two types of companies in the fashion industry, which Hockerts and Wüstenhagen (2010) call ‘emerging Davids’ and ‘greening Goliaths’. The later are large, established companies improving their sustainability through different improvements such as the implementation of environmental management systems, and the others are small companies which make sustainability the core of their business model and niche.  

Questions to pose when starting an eco-social business: 

  • Revitalisation of disappearing knowledge and experience in the production of garments 
  • Effective production and transport of products 
  • Identification of local suppliers for ecological materials 
  • Staff and supporters 
  • Patagonia: California-based outdoor apparel company
  • Hessnatur: German-based organic apparel company
  • Manomama: is a German sustainable entrepreneur that designs and manufactures clothes for women, men and children exclusively from regionally sources and ecologically material. Its impact goes beyond the environmental perspective, as it provides a safe social environment, offering full- or part-time jobs for local sewers. A central aspect of its social business is their appreciation of employees as well as the comparably high salary for their sewers. Their founder, Sina Trinkwalder wanted to revitalise the textile industry in the South of Germany and provide jobs for disadvantaged people. She was a newcomer on the field and had no knowledge nor experience and her only resource was her and her husband’s retirement provision. Nowadays, manomama produces more than 70 different organic garments. The only non 100% ecological parts are the zip fasteners. All of Manomama suppliers are local within 1 to 1.5 hours’ drive from Augsburg, with the exception of two materials that they source from Turkey (certified organic cotton) and Italy (organic twisted yarn). Whenever some suppliers close, Manomama tries to begin production itself or source it outside of Europe. Additionally, some of her suppliers have adapted and developed new techniques for ecological material, and they have developed an environmentally friendly elastic band made out of 100% organic cotton. Their sourcing and in-house production result in an important competitive advantage for them. With regards to their staff, for manomama the well-being of employees is very important and for her ‘Money is an instrument to show appreciation’, thus she pays her sewers a gross wage of 12€ per hour and her distributors are paid on a transparent commission basis. Sales staff can almost freely organise their time and design their sales activities, however they receive a fixed percentage of the selling price every time a customer names them as a salesperson. 


Chadha, Arjun [n,d], Characterizing sustainable entrepreneurship, accessed online on the 12th of May 2022 on 

Katsikis, Ioannis & KYRGIDOU, LIDA. (2007). The Concept of Sustainable Entrepreneurship: A Conceptual Framework and Empirical Analysis.. Academy of Management Proceedings, Best paper Award. 2007. 1-6. 10.5465/AMBPP.2007.26530537. 

Linnanen (2005) argues in his paper An Insider’s Experiences with Environmental Entrepreneurship,  

Plieth, Hanna & Bullinger-Hoffmann, Angelika & Hansen, Erik. (2012). Sustainable Entrepreneurship in the Apparel Industry - The Case of Manomama [Journal of Corporate Citizenship]. 45. 121–134. 10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2012.sp.00009.

Schaltegger S. (2013) Sustainable Entrepreneurship. In: Idowu S.O., Capaldi N., Zu L., Gupta A.D. (eds) Encyclopedia of Corporate Social Responsibility. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.