Environmental Entrepreneurship Explained

Many articles have been written about entrepreneurship. About success formulas and the importance to allow yourself to fail and grow. You can sign up for tons of courses, incubator programs, mentoring opportunities and get support from business coaches. Startup ecosystems have taken root all over the world. Established businesses and governments are taking a major interest too, adopting startup mindsets or inspiration for their own organizations. Entrepreneurship and its ‘how to’ has become booming business. It’s hot. Everyone is invited and tickled to consider becoming an entrepreneur and the good life of freedom that is promised with it.


You can start a business in anything. You can develop an app, open a shop (online or offline), brand yourself and start vlogging, or continue the service you provide in your job and start freelancing. Some people decide to start a business because they want their life to be more meaningful. Because they want to realize or change something in the world that is very close to their hearts. They start a business to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues. I’m talking about social entrepreneurship: “the art of simultaneously pursuing both a financial and a social return on investment (the double bottom line)” pbs.org.


From this inspiring category of business I want to focus on environmental entrepreneurship specifically. How do you build a business that is commercially successful and has a positive impact on the environment as well? Or how to create environmental impact while at the same time be profit driven? As an (aspiring) entrepreneur you have the ambition to make sales, yet at the same time your goal is to have a positive effect on the climate. Both your goals are equally important to you, and define the identity of your company. How do you succeed in both your goals? Since I’ve been working on this theme a lot, I decided it would be good to write a short article about it.  


What is Environmental Entrepreneurship?


There is not (yet) so much information available about Environmental Entrepreneurship. If you want a definition, I find the one from the Oxford handbook of business and the natural environment very simple and clear. – Environmental Entrepreneurs are individuals who create new, often for-profit, ventures that help address environmental challenges. The definition is wide enough to include a range of businesses from all industries, appling different business models. Yet it is also inclusive enough to state the bare essentials: creating, profit, environmental challenges.


Though it is important to find a theoretical common ground here, especially since the term is not yet too familiar to the masses, theory is always best explained by examples. Moving on now to a more practical approach. The environmental enterprises we work with are focussed around four main activities:


  1. Problems to solve
  2. Technologies to apply
  3. Communities to engage
  4. Money to make

All environmental enterprises operate in the green economy. Not all of them however, are technology driven. We also work with product or service oriented environmental enterprises. Yet they all at least incorporate A,C en D in their business models.


A. It starts with a question

Regardless of the business you set out to start, profit driven, impact or no impact, environmental objectives or not, they all start with a problem to solve. It could be just a simples question where there is not yet an answer for. A small gap in the range of products that is available to us that can make a big impact on people’s daily lives. How do you keep paper together, without damaging the document? In 1867 this question lead to the invention of the paperclip that you can now find in every draw of every desk worldwide.


B. Tech for green

The most common approach to answer our business, life or societal questions is through science and technology. Same goes for environmental challenges. Engineers are at the core of developing technologies to apply that take into account or even support the environment. The renewable energy industry is a leading example when it comes to tech for green applications. Continuously trying to enhance energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.


C. Power of the masses

Community building is a key element of today’s business. When you start a company in the environmental space you also have a community to engage with your activities. The building of a business community exceeds clientele only. Of course you do want to engage your customers continuously. Yet you also want to nurture a wider audience to bring your company’s impact and mission across to.


D. More profit more impact

One of the biggest business myths when it comes to social or environmental entrepreneurship is that impact can not go along with profit or vice versa. In our latest masterclass we try to break this myth once and for all. Simply because of the fact that the more profit you make, the more impact you can make too. Environmental entrepreneurs have money to make and lots of it to accomplish both their commercial and their impact goals.


Adopted into mature business

Environmental Entrepreneurship can also be integrated in “regular” enterprises, when mature businesses start to shift towards more eco-conscious operations. Adopting environmental entrepreneurship “from the inside-out” is can be a much easier and a much faster way to shift the paradigm.


Existing, mature businesses have the advantage of already having achieved a steady operation. They’ve booked their successes and learned their beginner’s lessons. They have matured and have the capacity and the funds to extend to other aspects of entrepreneurship. Environmental Entrepreneurship could be a natural step and an interesting challenge to enhance customer and employee engagement.


Also a mature company can start with the smallest of steps, measure the effects and continue to expand their environmental ambitions one by one. For example they can start with their office operation. Usage of paper in the office or recycling in general. Next they could reconsider their logistics or purchasing behaviour. These are relative small steps to start off with, making a real impact and appealing message to consumer and staff, before even having to make big changes in the business operation, keeping risks low in this regard.


Mature businesses can work out a multiple year strategy toward an environmental business goal (zero waste, climate neutral, etc.) without jeopardizing cash flow, and better yet, continue their growth to continue their journey toward environmental impact slowly but steady.  


Inspirational stories

The best way I know to describe environmental entrepreneurship is by sharing examples of entrepreneurs and businesses. Not only to make the definition come alive, but also to inspire and to educate. If you are looking to learn how to be an environmental entrepreneur: look for heroes. Let their stories inspire and teach you how to and how not to.


In the next series of Minimal Mass blog posts we will share specific stories to get you started. Each post will be focussed on a different industry. We go from transport to electronics, from food to fashion. Every issue will explain environmental entrepreneurship from an industry perspective, sharing examples and introducing you to the environmental entrepreneurship leaders of this time.


Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value


Join us

The question how to be a successful commercially and environmentally is one of many answers. And by working on this question you can start answering it. By starting a conversation, by learning from experience (your own and other’s). By sharing as many stories to inspire and ignite as much environmental entrepreneurship as possible.


Join our quest to answer what it takes to be an environmental entrepreneur through our social channels or join in one of the Minimal Mass communities.


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