Definitions and Conceptualizations of Environmental Entrepreneurship

Bell and Stellingwerf noted that a variety of terms have been used to describe “entrepreneurship behavior conducted through an environmental lens” including eco-entrepreneurship, environmental entrepreneurship, Enviropreneurship, green entrepreneurship and green–green businesses.[1]  They preferred “ecopreneurship” and included the following examples of definitions and conceptualizations of that term[2]:

  • “A person who seeks to transform a sector of the economy towards sustainability by starting up a business in that sector with a green design, with green processes and with a life-long commitment to sustainability”.[3]
  • “Entrepreneurs who found new businesses based on the principle of sustainability – Ecopreneurs are those entrepreneurs who start for-profit businesses with strong underlying green values and who sell green products or services”.[4]
  • “Individuals or institutions that attempt to popularise eco-friendly ideas and innovations either through the market or non-market routes may be referred to as Ecopreneurs”.[5]
  • “Usually the Ecopreneur has a ‘raison d’ˆetre’ that exceeds their desire for profits and often this is associated with making the world a better place to live.”’[6]
  • “Ecopreneurs can be classified according to two criteria: (1) their desire to change the world and improve the quality of the environment and life; and (2) their desire to make money and grow as a business venture.”[7]
  • Ecopreneurs are visionaries, with the ability to foresee a “demand for fundamental innovations in traditional markets. The challenge is to be economically successful with the supply of products and services that change – on a purely voluntary basis – consumption patterns and market structures, leading to an absolute reduction of environmental impacts”.[8]
  • Ecopreneurs are effectively decisive change agents, enabling the world to change its path, are highly motivated in making a difference and displacing unsustainable means, an important transitional role in sustainability.[9]

Bell and Stellingwerf argued that ecopreneurs filled gaps in the marketplace that could not be effectively addressed by large incumbent firms or traditional entrepreneurs.  While many established companies appreciate the importance of taking steps to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner, many feel that the sustainability strategies of these companies are “push” strategies driven by their need to comply with the demands of external regulatory bodies and other stakeholders.  In contrast, ecopreneurs act to implement “pull” strategies based on actively taking a stance towards becoming “greener” and building a competitive advantage over less “green” firms.[10]  As for distinctions between traditional entrepreneurship and ecopreneurship, the following words of Bell and Stellingwerf are instructive: “Entrepreneurs may effectively bring new combinations to the economy—i.e., new products, methods and markets.  However, it is the Ecopreneur who plays a critical role in the development process, constructing environmentally friendly products, processes, and services toward the sustainable development objective—‘development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.”[11]

While their small size and relative lack of resources appeared to make ecopreneurial startups unlikely candidates for transforming business sectors, many researchers believed that these startups were actually well positioned to identify and exploit innovative technological strategic niches that can not only bring about technological change but also challenge and pressure existing institutions, rules and norms.[12]  As explained by Smith, ecopreneurs are “the ‘idealists (producers and supportive users) who initiate a sustainable niche [and] are later joined by entrepreneurial ‘system builders’ who opren the niche out to a wider set of users) and, eventually, by serious amounts of capital seeking to profit from the proto-regime”.[13]

Corporate Environmental Management-Related Definitions
References Definitions
Kneese (1973)


Quality of the Environment: Discharges into the environmental media—air and water.
Shrivastava (1995b)


Total Environmental Quality Management (TQEM): Combines two ideas of environmentally oriented product design: design for disassembly and manufacturing for the environment. TQEM applies a total systems perspective and quality management principles to environmental problems.
Klassen and McLaughlin (1996)



Environmental Management: All efforts to minimize the negative environmental impact of the firm’s products throughout their life cycle (p. 1199).
Judge and Douglas (1998)


Environmental Issues Integration Capability: Organization’s capability to incorporate issues related to the environment into the strategic planning process (p. 243).
Bansal and Roth (2000)


Ecological responsibility: Motivation that stems from the concern that a firm has for its social obligations and values.
Christmann (2000)


Best Practices of Environmental Management: Practices that simultaneously reduce the negative impact of firms’ activities on the natural environment and contribute to competitive advantage in product markets (p. 664).
Winn and Angell (2000)


Corporate Greening: Overall organizational response to the natural environment as a type of social issue.
Whiteman and Cooper (2000)


Ecological Embeddedness: Extent to which a manager is rooted in the land. To be ecologically embedded is to personally identify with the land, to adhere to beliefs of ecological respect and caretaking, to actively gather ecological information, and to be physically located in the ecosystem (p. 1265).
Ramus and Steger (2000)


Eco-initiative: Any action taken by an employee that he or she thought would improve the company’s environmental performance (p. 606).
Lewis and Harvey (2001)


Perceived Environmental Uncertainty (PEU): A measurement of PEU based on Miller’s (1993) and grounded in environmental management literature.
Christmann and Taylor (2001)


Environmental Compliance: Related to compliance with national environmental regulations.
Halme (2002)


Environmental Management Paradigms: A shared worldview consisting of the core beliefs, basic assumptions, and values of the firm’s managers regarding the relationship of its activities to the natural environment (p. 1088).
Rothenberg (2003)


Environmental Management: Considers management of firm’s pollution and waste.
Sharma and Vredenburg (1998) Corporate Environmental Responsiveness: Defines 11 dimensions to examine corporate environmental strategies on the basis of the areas in which the oil and gas industry substantially affects the natural environment (species habitat preservation, environmental soil restoration, risk reduction of environmental accidents and wastes, waste reduction or reuse).
Prasad and Elmes (2005) Corporate Environmentalism: Directed by little more than direct instrumental concerns about green practices (p. 847). Reform Environmentalism: Influenced by both systems theory and sustainable development; organizations and the biospheric environment are reciprocally interconnected (p. 848).

Source: I. Montiel, “Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Sustainability: Separate Pasts, Common Futures”, Organization and Environment, 21(3) (September 2008), 245, 258.  The article reported the results of the author’s extensive survey of the evolution of management literature in both general management and specialized journals with respect to CSR and corporate sustainability (“CS”).  The article quantifies the research work and summarizes the different CSR-and CS-related definitions to identify the definitional differences between CSR and corporate sustainability. This Table, adapted from the article, lists different environmental management-related definitions used in the general management articles reviewed and full citations for the references can be found in the “References” section of the article.

This post is part of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project’s extensive materials on  Entrepreneurship and Sustainability and Entrepreneurship.


[1] J. Bell and J. Stellingwerf, Sustainable Entrepreneurship: The Motivations & Challenges of Sustainable Entrepreneurs in the Renewable Energy Industry (Jonkoping, Sweden: Jonkoping International Business School Master Thesis in Business Administration, 2012), 7 (citing S. Schaltegger, “Chapter 4: A framework and typology of Ecopreneurship: leading bioneers and environmental managers to Ecopreneurship” in M. Shaper (Ed.) Making Ecopreneurs: Developing Sustainable Entrepreneurship (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005), 43).  For a brief summary and critique of research on ecopreneurship, see D. Gibbs, “Sustainability Entrepreneurs, Ecopreneurs and the Development of a Sustainable Economy”, Greener Management International, 55 (September 2006), 63, 73-74.

[2] Id. at 7-8.

[3] R. Isaak, “The Making of the Ecopreneur”, Greener Management International, 38 (2002), 81.

[4] J. Kirkwood and S. Walkton, “What motivates Ecopreneurs to start a business?”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 16(3) (2010), 204.

[5] A. Pastakia, “Grassroots Ecopreneurs”, Journal of Organisational Change Management, 11(2) (1998), 157.

[6] L. Linnanen, “An insider’s experiences with environmental entrepreneurship”, Greener Management International, 38 (2002), 71.

[7] Id. (cited in C. Rogers, “Sustainable Entrepreneurship in SMEs: A Case Study Analysis”, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 17 (2010), 125).

[8] S. Schaltegger and M. Wagner, “Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Innovation: Categories and Interactions”, Business Strategy and the Environment, 20 (2011), 222.

[9] B. Cohen and M. Winn, “Market imperfections, opportunity and Sustainable Entrepreneurship”, Journal of Business Venturing, 22(1) (2007), 29.

[10] J. Bell and J. Stellingwerf, Sustainable Entrepreneurship: The Motivations & Challenges of Sustainable Entrepreneurs in the Renewable Energy Industry (Jonkoping, Sweden: Jonkoping International Business School Master Thesis in Business Administration, 2012), 8.

[11] Id. at 8-9.

[12] D. Gibbs, “Sustainability Entrepreneurs, Ecopreneurs and the Development of a Sustainable Economy”, Greener Management International, 55 (September 2006), 63, 68.

[13] A. Smith, “Transforming Technological Regimes for Sustainable Development: A Role for Alternative Technology Niches?”, Science and Public Policy, 30.2 (2003), 127, 130.

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