Entrepreneurship as a catalyst for change - Exploring the social, environmental, and market impacts of sustainable entrepreneurship

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Creative Sustainability
88 + 4
Sustainable entrepreneurship refers to entrepreneurial activities that aim for the creation and integration of social and environmental values in addition to financial motives. In the light of current sustainability challenges – including climate change, biodiversity loss, and global inequalities – sustainable entrepreneurship entails the potential to bring forth solutions to combat such complex challenges and contribute towards a more sustainable future through the means of a profitable business. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to explore the impact of sustainable entrepreneurship, especially focusing on how sustainable entrepreneurs perceive their role in sustainable development and evaluate it. My research follows the qualitative research tradition, more specifically the grounded theory methodology, through which I’ve sought for deeper understanding of this phenomenon. The main source of data for my research have been the interviews conducted with six sustainable entrepreneurs based in Finland. Additionally, this research is grounded on literature on sustainability, sustainable entrepreneurship, and sustainability transitions. Based on these, I’ve created the theoretical framework of this thesis, with the intention to model the impact paths of sustainable entrepreneurship. The results of this study imply that sustainable entrepreneurship’s impact is built on three main elements: sustainability in the core of the business; communication and stakeholder relations; and continuous development and aim for expansion. These elements together contribute to sustainable entrepreneurship’s impact both in terms of sustainability and the market. In general, the entrepreneurs felt they are contributing towards sustainable development, but that their impact has so far remained rather small. This implies the need for expansion to achieve a larger-scale effect that enables sustainable entrepreneurship to potentially catalyze socio-technical transition to sustainability. Most entrepreneurs focused their impact on environmental sustainability aspects, whereas only one addressed a social sustainability issue as their main goal. In terms of impact evaluation, almost all the entrepreneurs used both sustainability indicators, such as CO2 emissions, and business-based indicators, such as the number of sales or clients. The reported challenges by the interviewees included being a pioneer and thus lacking peer support; the lack of transparency within the other industry players, making it challenging to communicate or compare sustainability benefits; and the lack of applicable impact frameworks especially in terms of social sustainability. In addition to identifying elements of impact within sustainable entrepreneurship, this thesis contributes to the field of sustainable entrepreneurship by utilizing the Doughnut model by Kate Raworth (2017) to assess the impact of such entrepreneurship. This offers a novel way to identify, not only the sustainable entrepreneurs’ main areas of impact, but also potential new opportunities for businesses that aim to advance sustainable development.
Thesis advisor
Patala, Samuli
sustainable entrepreneurship, sustainable development, impact, sustainability transition
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