Examples of sustainable ventures in Europe
Sustainability innovations are a creative and powerful tool to foster the transition towards more sustainable lifestyles. Such present themselves very differently across Europe. This diversity of the European sustainability scene has been analysed by screening for respective institutions, business concepts, NGO initiatives, and academic research centres in a relatively broad and comprehensive way. Different case studies show the unique context in different European regions:
- Vestas (Denmark): a Danish manufacturer, seller, installer, and service provider of wind turbines
- Helsinki Region Transport (Finland): an initiative aiming at emission free public transport by using 100% renewable biofuel in their diesel vehicles
- Biobank (Italy): a community focusing on food, ccosmetics and detergents, e-commerce regarding organic products, and sustainable agricultural tourism
- Red de Semillas (Spain): a network aiming at raising efforts to preserve agricultural biodiversity in the local context, facilitating and promoting the use, production, maintenance and conservation of agricultural biodiversity
- HBCC (Hungary): promotes the increased use of renewable, mainly energy from biomass
- Bhrugu Aranya (Poland): a blossoming International Ecovillage
- LowCVP (UK): public-private partnership with the purpose to accelerate a sustainable shift to lower carbon vehicles and fuels
- Belwind (Belgium): Belgium’s largest renewable power plant with 55 turbo-lines in the North Sea
- Autolib (France): an electric car-sharing scheme in Paris and is led by Bolloré industrial group
Different roles of European citizens in the transition towards sustainable lifestyles
The results from research of the EU-InnovatE project clearly show different ways how of users and citizens can engage in and contribute to the sustainable development of our societies.
- As voters they legitimate representatives on the European, national and local level, which are responsible for political frameworks, rules and initiatives.
- Beyond this direct political process, citizens can engage in NGOs and other civil society’s activities.
- Users themselves often work in businesses as employees, where they may either act as Intrapreneurs or as participants of corporate citizenship activities (e.g. corporate volunteering), thus promoting the development of sustainability innovation.
- As consumers, they directly influence the demand side of the market through sustainable lifestyles and new consumption patterns.
- Additionally, users can participate in academic activities, such as the EU-InnovatE project, to express their opinions and provide information relevant for greening our markets.
It is important to mention that in reality, all of these roles are not separable from each other; rather they are rather executed simultaneously. For example, as over time a tendency exists towards growing consistency in Human behaviour, engagement in an NGO or a Corporate Volunteering project may in the long run also contribute to responsible consumer behaviour or enfold an impact on election preferences. Complementary, a general discussion as well as the inter-sectoral exchange about sustainable development contributes to a more vivid civic engagement in our society. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) want to provide a first international framework for these processes.
The relevance of country context for user innovation and entrepreneurship
However, our results also showed that regional differences among European countries are enormous (see examples of sustainable ventures above). Firstly, this includes different topics dominating the respective sustainability discussions in European countries. Moreover, culturally coded expectations (i.e. historical learning and past experiences) have pushed sustainability perceptions and expectations in different directions. Increasing economic interconnectedness inside Europe strengthens the awareness for sustainable innovation in an industry (“Imported Sustainability Awareness”). Thereby, however, the overall scale of exposure to global sustainability issues (e.g. climate change, social inclusion, health issues) varies substantially among European countries. Thirdly, the ‘social capital’ of a society steers sustainability perceptions in different directions. Therefore, initiatives, which are successful in one region, might not be so in another. This is because most sustainability innovations are context dependent and emerge from local knowledge and analysis. As a result, persons in different European countries are facing country (or even region) specific transaction costs of engagement for sustainable lifestyles.
Consequently, different transaction cost structures result in divergent levels of personal engagement. Persons choose the most efficient way of turning their sustainability preferences into action – results depending for example on weather effective NGOs or political initiatives exist, whether political frameworks are responsive, whether the media regularly report on corresponding issues etc. For example, in regions with effective governments, this implies voting for the most appropriate party and subsequently sticking to the established law. On the contrary, in the context of less responsive governance structures as we find them for example in many Southern European regions, engagement in local initiatives or sustainable food consumption seems to be the dominant road of sustainability engagement.
Thus, in the context of national discussions different sectors are competing for the relevance and support of the consumer-citizens. For example, in the context of less efficient and low trust political environments, genuine political initiatives seem less appropriate than in politically well organized, high trust nations. At the same time, however, important interdependencies exist among regional sectors, e.g. successful business activities require the existence of academic think tanks as well as a necessary level of administrative responsiveness. Similarly, political initiatives need support from corresponding academic research and civic engagement in order to achieve its goals.
Summing-up, for promoting innovation towards more sustainable lifestyles, it is of general interest to establish and foster sector-specific ‘hotspots’ (politics, civil society, business, consumers and academia). These include social partnerships (e.g. Bundesinitiative Mobility, an Austrian eMobility cluster for industry, users, experts and communities), sustainable entrepreneurship initiatives (e.g. “Autolib”, an electric carsharing scheme lead by Bolloré industrial group), regional consumer cooperatives (e.g. biocoop”, a cooperative of organic consumers formed in Lisbon), and academic think tanks (e.g. Sustainability Science Center in Denmark). The more options for sustainability engagement are provided by regional and national frameworks, the lower becomes the transaction cost of sustainability innovation engagement for a certain person; consequently, more uses and citizens with their individual preferences and interests can be involved. With a greater variability of (alternative) forms of engagement, citizens face an enhanced opportunity structure for sustainable lifestyles, e.g. to vote for corresponding political forces, to engage in innovative NGOs and social partnerships, to work for sustainable enterprises, to buy sustainable products, and/or to actively perceive the latest information and know-how from academic think tanks.
by Andre Habisch, Rene Schmidpeter, Franz Wenzel, and Bing Zhu