Individual compentences for sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation

Sustainability has become an important aspect in every business nowadays. However, how can we implement sustainability successfully in our business practices? Lambrechts et al. (2019), show how individual sustainability competences can play a role in business projects and especially in building projects.

Sustainability competences can be described as a cluster of related knowledge, skills,
attitudes and values that enable a person to act effectively on sustainable development.
Six sustainability competences can be identified:

  1. Strategic management competence and action competence: the ability to collectively design projects, implement interventions, transitions, and strategies for sustainable development practices and the ability to actively involve oneself in responsible actions for the improvement of the sustainability of social ecological systems.
  2. Embracing diversity and interdisciplinary competence: the ability to structure relationships, spot issues, and recognize the legitimacy of other viewpoints in business decision making processes; be it about environmental, social, and/or economic issues.
  3. Systems thinking competence: the ability to identify and analyze all relevant (sub) systems across different domains (people, planet, profit) and disciplines, including their boundaries.
  4. Normative competence: the ability to map, apply, and
    reconcile sustainability values, principles, and targets with internal and external stakeholders, without embracing any given norm but based on the good character of the one who is involved in sustainability issues.
  5. Foresighted thinking or anticipatory competence: the ability to collectively analyze, evaluate, and craft picturesof the future in which the impact of local and/or short-term decisions on environmental, social, and economic issues is viewed on a global/cosmopolitan scale and in the long term.
  6. Interpersonal competence: the ability to motivate, enable, and facilitate collaborative and participatory sustainability activities and research.

In general, Lambrechts et al. (2019) conclude that strategic management competence and action competence (1), embracing diversity and interdisciplinary competence (2) and interpersonal competence (6) have the most impact on successful sustainability entrepreneurship.

The effort to successfully gather diverse disciplines in teams and broadly source knowledge, is shown to be an indispensable method to increase sustainability in their projects. Personal knowledge transfer and collaborative behavior encouraged within the project-teams is indispensable.

Systems thinking competence (3) and foresighted thinking competence (5) occurred considerably less, probably because these concepts are not clearly defined.
The most striking result in the study is probably that the normative competence (4) was only one time relevant. This shows that sustainable entrepreneurship has become a more profit-driven conception. When asked if the respondents feel that with their handling of the projects they have done the ‘right’ thing and made the responsible decisions regarding sustainability, most will shrug off this suggestion and instead use economic terms to explain their behavior. They seem to integrate normative dimensions into other competences such as strategic, action and foresighted competences.

Entrepreneurs are willing to invest in sustainability innovations, when it provides opportunities to expand their business in niche markets and cut resource usage, and innovation leads to improved firm performance.

Norbert Bol


Lambrechts, W., Gelderman, C. J., Semeijn, J., & Verhoeven, E. (2019). The role of individual sustainability competences in eco-design building projects. Journal of Cleaner Production, 208, 1631-1641.

Photo by Opelblog: Rüsselsheim #TechDay: Opel-Kompetenzen

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