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What Is Ecopreneurship?

December 12, 2022
An environmental concept of a moss-covered globe in a lush forest.

Environmental protection has historically been in the purview of governments and non-profit organizations, but that is changing. Ecopreneurship is a rising trend in business and an important response to our global environmental challenges. Learn more about green entrepreneurs and the exciting market-based approach to helping solve environmental problems.

The Importance of Ecopreneurship

Melting polar ice caps, historic droughts, and ocean islands of floating plastic trash are just some signs of our global environmental crisis. After 27 years of United Nations climate conferences and international efforts to formulate sustainable policies, it's clear that consumers and businesses also need to prioritize solving environmental problems.

Find Success in Solving Environmental Problems

Consumer research firm Nielsen reports that "consumers want help to live and consume in a sustainable way." In June 2021, PWC reported that half of the consumers in their survey said they consider the environmental dimension of their purchases. That's up about 15% from 2019, the same year McKinsey consultants highlighted the bottom-line business benefits of a strong ESG proposition. ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. The consultants also pointed out that global sustainable investment had passed $30 trillion, increasing tenfold over fifteen years.1, 2, 3

McKinsey identified five ways that thoughtfully incorporating ESG into your business model can support success, including:

  1. Driving top-line growth
  2. Lowering costs
  3. Raising employee productivity and engagement
  4. Reducing regulatory and legal challenges
  5. Improving returns on investments and capital expenses

Ecopreneurship Is Environmental Entrepreneurship

The word ecopreneur combines the words ecology, which comes from the Greek word for home--eikos--and entrepreneur. Ecologists study the relationships of organisms with each other and their environment. Entrepreneurs are essential drivers of economic activity and innovation through their creation of new businesses based on satisfying unmet needs.

Other common terms for ecopreneurship include green entrepreneurship, sustainable entrepreneurship, eco entrepreneurship and environmental entrepreneurship.

Eco-Innovation Drives Business While Supporting the Environment

Innovation can create competitive advantages for a business through differentiation and operating efficiency. There are three general areas where entrepreneurs can eco-innovate: process, organization, and product.4

Entrepreneurs are developing eco-friendly products across the spectrum of consumer and industrial needs. Green products often include process innovations that reduce pollution and waste. Organizational innovations include business models that explicitly shape management practices around sustainable values.

Environmentally friendly products can be divided into three categories:

  • Organic products
  • Fairtrade products
  • Local consumption products

Organic products eschew the use of chemicals in production. Fairtrade products aim to support the people and communities where they are produced while respecting the local environment and using more sustainable production methods. Local consumption is a way to support local communities, offer fresher, healthier foods and lower the carbon footprint of products through shorter supply chains.

How Ecopreneurship Relates to Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs include aspects of the common good, "which refers to fostering and imparting the human values of dignity, solidarity, sustainability, social justice, democracy, and transparency" in their mission and strategy.4

Instead of focusing on profit alone, social entrepreneurs expand the triple bottom line to include people and the planet along with profit in their value equation. Ecopreneurship and environmentally friendly businesses fit within the broader category of social entrepreneurship.4

Sustainable Development

Ecopreneurs work to solve specific environmental problems in for-profit and non-profit enterprises. At Seattle University, our commitment to sustainability is apparent in our curriculum, our campus operations and our pledge to divest our endowment of fossil fuels. We're proud to be recognized for our commitment to sustainability by Sierra Magazine. 5

The Earth Day 2022: Seattle U Sustainability Facts PDF

Sustainable Business Models

Arguing that the familiar models of material extraction, production and consumption are at the root of our environmental issues, advocates of a circular economic model say that reducing waste through recycling goods will help preserve natural resources and limit environmental damage.

Companies in various verticals are incorporating the idea of a circular economy into their business model. Other green entrepreneurs are more focused on reducing the negative impact of operation through eco-efficiency--saving materials and energy in the production process while reducing pollutants.

Ecopreneurship Examples

Ecopreneurship is a driving force behind successful companies selling products and services across industries. To be a successful ecopreneur, your company doesn't have to be any specific size or have a particular business model. The fundamental requirement is to successfully market your innovative solutions to customer needs while protecting the environment.

You can find several different online lists of bold and successful green businesses. Here's a small sample to illustrate the possibilities.

Patagonia - The clothing and equipment company, which has long been involved in environmental efforts, recently made news when its founder transferred ownership of the $3 billion business to a non-profit devoted to environmental protection.

Aspiration - This fintech company offers consumers the opportunity to plant trees by rounding up on purchases. It also sells carbon assets to help individuals and businesses become climate positive. To date, the 2013 startup has raised $250 million in venture capital.6

MUD Jeans - Founded by a fashion industry veteran, this certified B-corp clothing company is built on the three pillars of a circular economy, fair production and positive activism. Its flagship offering is a jeans lease, which allows them to recycle the garment when a consumer is done with it.

New Belgium Brewing - This employee-owned B-corp is famous for its conservation efforts and for its Fat Tire ale, which became the first American beer certified carbon-neutral in 2020.

Ikea - The multinational furniture and consumer goods giant strives for long-term sustainability on many fronts. Their business sustainability goals include a commitment to powering their entire value chain with renewable energy by 2030.

Sustainable Business Practices

Environmental blogger Cory Ames and the ESG Investor listed several practices that are hallmarks of environmentally sustainable businesses, including:7, 8

  • Using eco-efficient manufacturing and packaging
  • Sourcing renewable materials
  • Using renewable energy where possible
  • Working to lower their carbon footprint
  • Properly managing waste
  • Helping consumers recycle end-of-life-products

A larger conception of sustainability includes human factors such as worker safety and turnover, the ratio of CEO compensation to that of employees, and diversity in board and management positions.

Businesses can prove they are not just "greenwashing" by being transparent about their business operations and through audits and certifications, including organic and fair trade certifications, or by becoming certified B corporations.

Create Your Sustainable Success with Seattle University

Earning your online MBA or online MSBA from Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics will increase your potential for positive impact without increasing your carbon footprint. Develop the business acumen to support your ecological ideals with our holistic, values-centered education and rigorous coursework. Hone your entrepreneurial skills with the help of our renowned Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and through our extensive mentorship and networking opportunities. Talk with an admissions advisor today to learn more about how we can help you realize your environmental and entrepreneurial goals.