Roar of the Sustainable Entrepreneur
Sustainable Entrepreneurship is a global phenomenon that behaves like a mouse even though it has the power of a lion.
The concept of sustainable entrepreneurship is lumped with and swallowed up, like a little mouse, into more general categories such as social entrepreneurship, impact investing, and sustainable business. And yet, sustainable entrepreneurship is a powerful force in the global economy that merits attention on its own.
There is an old Turkish proverb: There is a lion in every heart. Let’s add a few words: There is a lion in the heart of every sustainable entrepreneur. It takes courage to launch and grow a business. And it takes courage to tackle the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change. It is especially admirable to take on both at the same time.
Despite the challenge and the risk, our work for the good of the planet does not disadvantage us. In fact, true to our strength as lions, there are significant competitive advantages of sustainable entrepreneurship.
It is time to hear the roar of the Sustainable Entrepreneur.
The Growth of Sustainable Entrepreneurship
Sustainable Entrepreneurship is a huge loosely knit industry. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Institute, the Clean Tech sector alone has received billions of investment in the last decade. A graph from this analysis (presented below) shows that renewable energy represents the largest sector in the Clean Tech space.
The Clean Tech sector is growing at an astounding rate. For example, the solar energy sector has been growing by about 30% per year for the last ten years, and this rate of growth is expected to continue. Sustainable Entrepreneurship is more than just Clean Tech, and it includes such diverse and massive business sectors from organic farming to ecotourism.
Competitive Advantage of Sustainable Entrepreneurship
Part of the scope and success of sustainable entrepreneurship is because the world needs what we create. Clean energy, clean water, healthy food, and land conservation are in demand. The more we can help Sustainable Entrepreneurs succeed in their mission, the more we will promote healthy people and a healthy planet.
At the Heart of Waraba, we encourage entrepreneurs to recognize and capitalize on the inherent advantages that come with launching and growing businesses in the sustainability space. We are not sacrificing and we are not disadvantaged compared to standard businesses. We are benefiting from the three competitive advantages of sustainable entrepreneurship:
The 3 Competitive Advantages of Sustainable Entrepreneurship
The Heart: Self Aware Leadership
Self-awareness is at the heart of the competitive advantage for sustainable entrepreneurs. Being driving by a purpose greater than money alone can bring self-awareness, clarity and focus to the entrepreneur. A self-aware CEO is more innovative, visionary, and a better leader than those without a higher purpose.
These traits can empower leaders to guide their companies at every stage of development and navigate past pitfalls that would be the undoing of less visionary competitors. Also, stemming global warming and other environmental challenges cannot be solved by the same thinking that created our current situation. Thus, the sustainable entrepreneur is inherently working in an innovative space, which can provide an edge compared to conventional companies.
The Pride: Team Motivation
One definition of pride is “a group of lions”. A pride also means a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements or those of someone with whom one is closely associated. People want to feel a sense of pride about where they work, and millennials especially want to work at companies that align with their values.
The alignment of a company’s purpose and individuals’ values can motivate employees to be loyal and hardworking. Also, belief in a company’s mission can help equip employees to manage the inevitable roller coast (or as one friend calls it “solar coaster”) of launching and growing a company. A strong, motivated team is critical to creating a durable, profitable enterprise.
The Roar: Customer Loyalty
There is a growing global marketing place of customers who value sustainability and want to buy products and services from sustainable companies. A sustainable business creates instant admiration and connection with customers. In the Internet era, a business’ good reputation is a foundation for expanding into new markets and growing the company.
Customers who have both a good experience with a company and believe in the company’s commitment to sustainability will roar for more. In fact, the customers of mission-oriented enterprises can create passionately loyal and vocal customers who become a driving force for growth.
These three competitive advantages reinforce each other. Self-aware leadership creates a motivated team. A motivated team, in turn, generates customer loyalty. And success in the marketplace strengthens the confidence and hence the self-awareness of the company leaders.
There may be other competitive advantages of sustainable entrepreneurship. Please add your additions in the survey below.
Money and Mission are Equal Partners
Sustainable entrepreneurs see their competitive advantages differently than other business people. Yes, there are financial rewards that come from the competitive advantages of the Heart, Pride, and Roar. More importantly, money is one of the sustainable entrepreneurs’ greatest tools to grow a company so it can fulfill its mission.
Money can finance the hiring of great staff, expansion into new markets, a culture of innovation, and many other core functions of a successful business. Money can also give the entrepreneur peace of mind and even confidence as she grows her company. But sustainable entrepreneurs appreciate that money by itself does not satisfy our deeper hunger.
For sustainable entrepreneurs, mission and money are equal partners in a virtuous cycle. The competitive advantages that come with the clarity of mission generate money, and money, in turn, allows a company to further its sustainability mission.
Sustainable Entreprenuership Poll
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Tip of the Spear to Solve Climate Change
In the famous Aesop tale of the Mouse and the Lion, the moral is that no one should be underestimated or discounted. When the Lion is trapped in the hunter’s net, it is the tiny Mouse who gnaws through the strands of the net that sets the Lion free.
Similarly, we can appreciate that all of us –- big and small — are needed to solve the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change. We rely on governments to establish good policies to reduce pollution, on big business to shift how products are produced, and on the cumulative actions of billions of individuals across the globe to live their lives in harmony with the planet.
But there is a special role for the sustainable entrepreneur. We are the ones who are the tip of the spear. It is precisely the same competitive advantages of sustainable entrepreneurship (self-aware leadership, motivated team, and loyal customers) that enable us to innovate and take risks. The tip of the spear to solve climate change is made sharp by climate change.
Here is an example: in my home state of North Carolina in the United States, the legislative body established good policies to promote renewable energy. With good policies in place, the large power company, Duke Energy, was a willing partner to bring solar energy onto the electricity grid. But, it was the small, agile, risk-taking solar companies that broke through the conventions to figure out the business models, supply chains, and financial structures to deploy solar in my state.
The small entrepreneurial companies demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of solar at every scale from residential roof-top projects to massive solar farms. The big power companies only began investing capital after sustainable entrepreneurs made solar a safe bet.
Closing With Heart, Pride, and Roar
It is not easy to be an entrepreneur, especially one whose business is sustainability. We face loneliness, uncertainty, and many challenges that come from serving a cause greater than ourselves. But embedded in this challenge is the seed of our success. Our passion to serve a higher purpose is what drives our competitive advantages of self-aware leadership, team motivation, and customer loyalty.
We cannot create healthy people and a healthy planet without the innovation of entrepreneurship. The more we can help sustainable entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams, the more likely we are to solve the world’s greatest challenges.