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Merle Becker

Our world is interconnected, our resources are limited, and every decision we make impacts all other areas around the globe. This is particularly evident in the business world. The 20th century was characterized by a corporate leadership ethos that prioritized profit maximization as the sole objective of all economic activities. This principle was taught in business schools and practiced in daily business operations. It was based on the idea of the Homo Economicus, who is rational and acts with the sole aim of profit maximization. However, as the planet’s finite resources started to dwindle and societal divisions intensified, an increasing number of individuals began to reconsider this approach around the turn of the millennium. The Triple Bottom Line-Approach seemed to be a good way of handling this problem. But it will not be sufficient to prevent us humans from surpassing planetary boundaries.

Therefore, the idea of “sustainable entrepreneurship” has become a part of the business world. Under this definition, one finds companies that exploit opportunities while simultaneously seeking social, environmental, and economic interests. To put it simply, the exploitation of business opportunities goes hand-in-hand with the goal of creating value that persists over time, with an overall concern for the well-being of future generations.

This approach is also referred to as the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) concept, which is increasingly being applied in the 21st century, coined by John Elkington in 1994. More and more companies are shifting their focus beyond profit alone, considering the needs of People and Planet. Ideally, sustainability is integrated into all business aspects, including supply chains, partnerships, wages, and energy usage. The aim is to generate profits while also making positive contributions to society and the environment. Entrepreneurs recognize that they can only contribute to societal good through their companies if their businesses thrive, but “Studies show that the most sustainable companies are also the most profitable” (Chladek 2019). Thus, profit remains a crucial pillar of this concept.

The Harvard Business School asserts that sustainability in business yields various advantages:

  • Firstly, it functions as a protective measure for your brand, mitigating risks by averting damaging incidents and preserving a favourable public image.
  • Secondly, the adoption of a purpose-driven approach confers a competitive edge, drawing in a motivated workforce and augmenting overall financial success.
  • Thirdly, in the face of a burgeoning market for sustainable goods, organizations dedicated to eco-friendly practices can tap into a consumer base willing to alter habits for environmental impact.
  • Lastly, collaborative endeavours among prosperous companies possess the potential to drive substantial change in addressing global challenges, exemplifying the positive environmental and business outcomes achievable through cooperative action (ct. Chladek 2019).

But, especially because of these advantages, a concept like the TBL may remain an accounting system or a marketing tool if sustainability is not fully and holistically internalized.  Sustainable entrepreneurship must form the foundation of the overall corporate strategy and be integrated into the DNA of the organization. It impacts the entire company by expanding the scope of action from purely profit-driven goals to the creation of shared benefits and values. However, this can only be achieved if the innovation process of the entire company is transformed into an open and socially-oriented search process aimed at finding efficient and sustainable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing our world. Elkington himself critiques the widespread use of TBL, stating,

TBL’s stated goal from the outset was system change — pushing toward the transformation of capitalism. It was never supposed to be just an accounting system. It was originally intended as a genetic code, a triple helix of change for tomorrow’s capitalism, with a focus on breakthrough change, disruption, asymmetric growth (with unsustainable sectors actively sidelined), and the scaling of next-generation market solutions” (Elkington 2018).

He assumes that no business models or sustainability frameworks are sufficient to prevent us humans from surpassing planetary boundaries. Instead of capitalist ideas, a rapid and radical intent is needed for this purpose: a radical responsibility.


    • Chladek, N. 2019: Why you need sustainability in your business strategy, Harvard: Harvard Business School Online, online: (Last accessed 13.02.24).
    • Köster, K. 2021a: Responsible Leadership in the 21st Century – Transforming Organizations with the Twelve Alignments, online unter: (Last accessed 13.02.24).
    • Pinna, M. 2020: Sustainable Entrepreneurship – A Systematic Review of Academic Research, Cham: Springer International Publishing.
    • Weidinger, C., Fischler, F., Schmidpeter, R. (ed.) 2014: Sustainable Entrepreneurship Business Success through Sustainability, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.