Competent Partner, Champion of Sustainability–Can Entrepreneurs Play Out Both Cards at the Same Time?

Food waste tossed out as greenwaste
(Photo: Ben_Kerckx/Pixabay)

Author Anders Broström discusses the ways in which sustainability plays a part in publishing partnerships based on the article “Legitimation work in sustainable entrepreneurship: Sustainability ventures’ journey towards the establishment of major partnerships,” published in The International Small Business Journal.

The impulse for this research came from conversations with food industry firms about how their efforts to tackle the issue of food waste involved different types of partnerships with small entrepreneurial firms. While investigating this phenomenon, we were unsure about how to think about it. On the one hand, efforts to reduce food waste can be thought of as an efficiency problem. On the other hand, food waste is a sustainability concern. There are a number of interesting studies suggesting that in environments where more than one logic co-exists, organizations face difficult trade-offs in legitimizing themselves. Yet these types of problems were not very evident in our initial data. This observation made us want to dig deeper into exactly how entrepreneurial firms in this setting did manage to convince large industry incumbents to enter into partnerships with them.

Andra Riandita, Anders Broström, Raffaella Cagliano, and Andreas Feldmann
Academic paper authors, clockwise from top left: Andra RianditaAnders BroströmRaffaella Cagliano, and Andreas Feldmann

Our research shows that the entrepreneurial firms present themselves as either a competent business partner, much like any knowledge-intensive service firm markets itself, or as champions of sustainable development. We argue that this finding reflects significant logic incompatibility, in combination with differences in the founding logic of the entrepreneurial firms.

On the surface, it may seem as if entrepreneurs offering incumbents support in reducing food waste could benefit from drawing on a combination of arguments relating to commercial and environmental/social logics. After all, don’t all entrepreneurs today have an argument up their sleeve about how their venture will contribute to sustainable development? Our analysis, however, suggests that the entreprenur may be better off anchoring her sales pitch firmly in either one of those logics.

But our study draws on experiences from the formation of the first major partnership of a new venture. We believe it is highly interesting to ask what may happen over time. Perhaps sustainability entrepreneurs can and will engage in a more complex type of legitimation work, where commercial arguments and sustainability arguments are combined and intertwined in new ways. This is something that needs to be addressed in further research, in order to further promote our understanding of this type of entrepreneurial activity.

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Anders Broström

Anders Broström has since 2003 worked with policy-related research and consulting activities in the economics and management of knowledge; its production, dissemination and use. Furthermore, Anders engages in research concerning entrepreneurship and labour market dynamics, in particular concerning the individual returns to entrepreneurship, venture legitimation, and career patters of highly skilled workers.

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