This theoretical article combines entrepreneurship, economics and sustainability to build a new theory of biosphere entrepreneurship.  Going beyond business and social entrepreneurship — which add value to private and community domains, respectively — biosphere entrepreneurship adds value to the biosphere and ecosystem services.  The purpose of this article is to define biosphere entrepreneurship, and to devise and extend mental models (frameworks) relating entrepreneurship and climate change to facilitate theory building.  This article is part of a continuing series of articles on entreVersity about Climate Change As If the Planet Mattered.

biosphere entrepreneurship
Images used in this article (below) that describe biosphere entrepreneurship theoretical frameworks

Using images and visual depictions, the article elaborates a series of illustrative candidate frameworks that suggest a theoretical model of entrepreneurial ecology or biosphere entrepreneurship.  It aims to show how the Earth, humanity, and the economy are connected through negative entrepreneurship and positive entrepreneurship.  It extends extant frameworks from the fields of financial and capital, entrepreneurial allocation, risk and survival, value and disvalue creation, growth and de-growth, socio-cultural frameworks, and entrepreneurial opportunity to justify entrepreneurial activity that adds value to Earth. The article concludes with implications for entrepreneurship education. What should educators be doing to help our young entrepreneurs come to grips with existential and catastrophic risks?  Keywords: Entrepreneurship, biosphere, ontology, theory-building, ecosystem, sustainability, resilience, framework analysis, capital, risk, value, growth, cultural, opportunity.

Resumen en español

El Surgimiento del Emprendimiento de la Biósfera. El presente artículo teorético combina emprendimiento, economía y sustentabilidad para construir una teoría de emprendimiento de la biósfera. Mas allá del emprendimiento social y de negocios, que suman valor a las esferas sociales y económicas respectivamente, el emprendimiento de la biósfera agrega valor a la biósfera y a los servicios del ecosistema. El propósito de este artículo es definir el emprendimiento de la biosfera a la vez de figurar y extender modelos que relacionan el emprendimiento y el cambio climático con la finalidad de facilitar el desarrollo de teorías. Usando imágenes y representaciones visuales, el articulo elabora propuestas de marcos de referencia ilustrativos que sugieren un modelo teórico del emprendimiento de la biósfera. El artículo tiene el objetivo de mostrar como el planeta Tierra, la humanidad, y la economía están conectados a través del emprendimiento positivo y negativo. Extiende modelos existentes dentro de los ámbitos de finanzas y capital, asignación del esfuerzo de emprendimiento, riesgo y sobrevivencia, creación de valor y desvalor, crecimiento y decrecimiento, marcos socio culturales, y la oportunidad del emprendimiento para substanciar la existencia del emprendimiento que agrega valor al planeta Tierra. El artículo concluye exponiendo las repercusiones de esta perspectiva en la educación del emprendimiento. Qué deben hacer los educadores para ayudar a los jóvenes emprendedores a entender los riesgos existenciales y catastróficos a los que esta sujeto el planeta? Palabras clave: Emprendimeinto, biósfera, ontología, desarrollo teórico, ecosistema, sustentabilidad, resiliencia, analísis de modelos, capital, riesgo, valor, desarrollo económico, cultura, oportunidad.

biosphere entrepreneurship
Original article in pdf

This is an Author-updated Open Access Article distributed under the CC BY license. Original article: Frederick, H. H. (2018). The emergence of biosphere entrepreneurship: Are social and business entrepreneurship obsolete? International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 34(3), 381–419. PDF

This version updated September 2019

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, biosphere, ontology, theory-building, ecosystem, sustainability, resilience, framework analysis, capital, risk, value, growth, cultural, opportunity.

Entrepreneurial ontology

The New Yorker's take on ontology.
An ontologist separates phenomena into categories or frameworks. Roz Chast, New Yorker magazine.

What is ontology? Ontological analysis builds frameworks or theoretical constructs to describe phenomena that can be said to exist (Hofwebwer 2004).  See for example the famous New Yorker cover, which elegantly shows ontological analysis with ice cream.

We use the concept of ‘entrepreneurship ontology’ in the tradition of Kuratko, Morris, and Schindehutte (2000; 2001; 2015), who within our field have led in the use of framework analysis  A framework is an abstract construct (often an image or visual depiction) that researchers contrive to identify, compare, and contrast theoretical constructs.  The goal is to convert abstraction into order, prioritize variables, and identify relationships about phenomena about which experts and observers increasingly are reaching consensus.  Using frameworks, researchers develop theories that explain and predict phenomena.  As any single framework may cover only particular aspects of a phenomenon, the grander goal is to generate a ‘meta-framework of frameworks’ to create mental models through which partial observations are juxtaposed to be helpful in theory-building (Warriner 1984, 3:34)

The purpose of this article is to identify frameworks that may have explanatory or predictive power, or simplicity, or may integrate well into or elegantly extend existing frameworks.  In the present endeavour, we seek candidate frameworks combining the domains of entrepreneurship, economics, and sustainability to develop a theory of biosphere entrepreneurship. 

What is biosphere entrepreneurship?

Considerable research has shown that entrepreneurs play an important role in the transformation towards a more sustainable world (e.g. Azmat 2013; Kirkwood and Walton 2014; S. Majid and Yaqun 2016; S. Majid and Yaqun 2016; Markman et al. 2016; Schaper 2016; Thurman 2016; Walton and Kirkwood 2013).  Yet there is a multitude of examples where entrepreneurs have done the opposite and have plundered Earth’s resources with impunity, thus contributing to existential risks (Frederick, O’Connor, and Kuratko 2016, 3–4, 48, 64, 74–75, 129–130, 139–141; Penn 2003).  In fact, some types of entrepreneurial activity may be inconsistent with the need to conserve the planet and prevent environmental damage.  As Shepherd et al. (2013, 1251) argue, ‘some . . . entrepreneurs decide to act in ways that result in harm to the natural environment . . . perceive[ing] opportunities that harm the environment as highly attractive’. 

Economic activity, including entrepreneurship, has affected the natural environment over the millennia (Crate and Nuttall 2016).  On balance, entrepreneurs have undervalued biodiversity, ecosystems, and the means of survival that nature provides, including resources such as energy, water, free space, and materials. They have sometimes not valued nature as a living ecosystem and have devalued it as a source of natural capital.  Rather than adding value the Earth, entrepreneurs have sometimes aimed only to reduce the quantity of waste that is returned to the planet.  In the end, society, through government, has had to implement complex regulations, incentives and tools to penalize entrepreneurs or to encourage them to not only reduce waste but also mitigate the effects of their negative activity. 

Literature on sustainability and the economy has accelerated over the year.  Previous writings such as Malthus (1878), Carson (1962), Boulding (1966), Ehrlich (1968), and Club of Rome (1972) presaged the development of the modern works.  Many authors (Burns and Witoszek 2012; MacNeill 2013) consider the modern sustainability literature to have truly begun with the publication of Our Common Future (1987), known as the Brundtland Commission Report.  Brundtland examined the inter-relations of the economy with natural systems and environmental health.  It outlined how the world’s population was already living well beyond the planet’s means to replenish natural resources, absorb pollution, and regulate important climatic conditions.  The report gave us the most widely used definition of sustainability as ‘[meeting] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.  It argued that the economy was having a negative impact but that it was still not too late to improve the natural environment while at the same time achieving economic growth (Brundtland 1987, 3.27).  Two decades later the Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change (2007) maintained that climate change was the greatest market failure ever seen.   Yet by 2014, the second Stern Commission report (2014) provided a positive spin:  there was no need to choose between fighting climate change and growing the world’s economy. One could do both at the same time.  IPCC’s Pachauri concurred, ‘Entrepreneurs who respond to the challenge will reap commercial success – while businesses which fail to do so face oblivion’ (Wright 2009).

Indeed, some authors (i.a. Lowitt 2014; Dean and McMullen 2007a; Nagler 2012; Patchell and Hayter 2013; Grisham 2009; Rodgers 2010) have suggested that entrepreneurs never waste a good crisis, that existential risks such as climate change provide opportunities for entrepreneurs.  Elkington and Burke’s Green Capitalists (1989) argued that environmentalism is in the entrepreneur’s best long-term interests.  Bennett’s Ecopreneuring (1991) focused on opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs to create growth-oriented eco-businesses.  Berle (1991), Blue (1991) and Anderson and Leal (1997) used terms like enviro-capitalists, environmental and green entrepreneurs. Porritt’s (2007) Capitalism as if the World Matters argued that the only way to save the world from environmental catastrophe was to embrace a new type of capitalism

We distinguish this field from commercial entrepreneurship (Entrepreneur economicus)–which seeks to add value to the private purse–and social entrepreneurship (Entrepreneur sociologicus)–which seeks to add value to the community and society.  Let us argue that the term biosphere entrepreneurship describes entrepreneurial activity that generates value for the biosphere and ecosystem services.  We call this person Entrepreneur naturalis, or the biosphere entrepreneur.  The sparse literature (Bergstrand, Björk, and Molnar 2011; Björk 2011; Björk and Olsson 2013; Fry 2013; Swedish Ministry of Environment 2014, 75, 102; George and Reed; Hofstra 2015; Orihuela 2017; Frederick 2017) summarizes the main characteristics of biosphere entrepreneurs (see Table 1).  These characteristics are elucidated in the article using ontological frameworks culminating in a tentative theory of biosphere entrepreneurship.

Characteristics of biosphere entrepreneurs

Table of Characteristics of Biosphere Entrepreneurship
Compare these characteristics to business entrepreneurs, who put the dividends in their pockets, or even to social entrepreneurs, who put the dividends into the community. Biosphere entrepreneurs put the dividend back into the planet.

Research questions

In positing a third kind of entrepreneurship beyond commercial and social entrepreneurship, the research questions are necessarily exploratory.  Is there something there?  Can we sort observations into categories?  Can we extend existing frameworks to cover this new category? Can we envision a ‘framework of frameworks’ that ties together disparate threads, each of which explains a portion of the phenomenon?  As Kuratko et al. (2015, 3) maintain, ‘new opportunities for entrepreneurship theory . . . will be based on both expanding the contexts of entrepreneurship as well as a deepening of the existing theoretical approaches’.  The purpose of this paper is to expand the context by elaborating a series of illustrative candidate frameworks that suggest the emergence of biosphere entrepreneurship as it manifests in the present era. 

Candidate frameworks for a theory of biosphere entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurial process is culturally influenced and has changed throughout the ages (William J. Baumol 1990a; Frederick, O’Connor, and Kuratko 2016, 10–13).  This paper’s goal is to examine frameworks that explain outcomes of entrepreneurial efforts and to distinguish the context in which they occur.  It maintains that Morris et al. (2001, 47) were three-quarters correct when they wrote:  ‘Entrepreneurship is a meaningful concept at the individual, organizational, and societal levels, and the frameworks perspective is applicable at each of these levels’.  In the present age, entrepreneurship theory must also address a fourth level: the realm of the Earth.  Both theory and practice point us in that direction.  The evolution of the human endeavour compels us to do so. 

We begin with the most general—Boulding’s three spheres of human activity—and proceed to finance and capital frameworks; allocation of entrepreneurial activity; risk and survival; value and disvalue; growth frameworks; socio-cultural frameworks; and finally entrepreneurial opportunity frameworks.  These frameworks are chosen not because they represent an exhaustive list but rather because they are illustrative. 

Three spheres of entrepreneurial activity

Boulding’s three activity spheres

Boulding's Three Spheres of Human Activity
Boulding (1966) penned the influential essay ‘The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth’, in which he posited three spheres of human activity: econosphere, sociosphere, and biosphere.

Let us begin with one framework that underpins other frameworks as well as the final theory building exercise.  A half-century ago, economist Kenneth E. Boulding (1966) penned the influential essay ‘The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth’, in which he posited three spheres of human activity: econosphere, sociosphere, and biosphere (see Figure).  At the outside is the biosphere, which consists of all of the living and non-living things on Earth. Within the biosphere, the sociosphere is composed of all the people in a social system, all the roles they occupy.  In Boulding’s view this was the realm of human information, knowledge, society, norms, social allocation, and culture.  Finally, we can see, the econosphere as all objects, people, and organizations involved in the system of exchange mediated through prices.  From a material point of view, we can see exchange through the objects passing from the biosphere (see arrows) into the econosphere through the sociosphere in the process of production, and we similarly see products passing out of the econosphere back into the biosphere as their value becomes zero or negative.  Finally, we see a third arrow with production passing into the biosphere with positive value.  To Boulding, it had become obvious that Earth was actually a closed, self-contained spaceship with diminishing resources and no room for waste, what he called the ‘spaceship economy’.  In the closed spaceship economy, ‘throughput is by no means a desideratum’. 

So the question arises, in which of Boulding’s three sphere(s) does entrepreneurial value creation and activity take place?  The predominant thinking usually positions it in the econosphere, and names it commercial entrepreneurship.  OECD (2008, 14) is typical in defining entrepreneurial activity as ‘enterprising human action in pursuit of the generation of value, through the creation or expansion of economic activity, by identifying and exploiting new products, processes or markets’.  In the last twenty years, writers identified a second level of entrepreneurial activity with an embedded social purpose that create social value, rather than personal and shareholder wealth.  Social entrepreneurship would reside in the sociosphere, although subsequent writers have identified hybrid structural forms which mix commercial and social approaches (Dees 1998; Zadek and Thake 1997; Austin, Stevenson, and Wei-Skillern 2006).  The final locus of activity leaps out:  Does entrepreneurial value creation in the biosphere exist?  Are there such things as biosphere entrepreneurs?  What are the hallmarks of this type of entrepreneurial activity?  That is what this paper seeks to answer.

Financial and capital frameworks

Moving on, we can see Boulding’s three spheres when we consider entrepreneurial finance and capital.  In the past, this framework classically sought to explain the venture funding process through the different stages of growth, from seed capital to IPOs (Aggestam 2014; Aggestam 2014; Brophy and Shulman 1992; Erikson 2002; Kuratko, Morris, and Schindehutte 2015).  Finance/manufacturing capital was seen as any resource used to create other goods or services (Sullivan and Sheffrin 2003).  These frameworks typically viewed entrepreneurial capital only as money and manufacturing plants, and they have not considered new forms of capital.  Increasingly, researchers refer to entrepreneurial capital more expansively (Forum for the Future; Porritt 2007; Tuazon, Corder, and McLellan 2013).  Here, we look beyond the classical frameworks to examine novel finance and capital frameworks addressing entrepreneurial activity in the biosphere. 

The five forms of capital

Five forms of capital
Each sphere of human activity has its own particular form of capital.

 The ‘Five Capitals Framework’ (derived from Boulding (1970, 1, 11) and Diesendorf and Hamilton (1997)) embodies these three levels.  In this view, capital arises from each of Boulding’s three ‘spheres’, yielding different forms of capital (see Figure).

The three spheres have also influenced performance frameworks.  Financial and capital analysts have moved beyond ‘profit’ and shareholder value to look at the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) (Figure), a phrase coined by Elkington (1994; 1997).  TBL performance measures examine all three spheres by analysing the three P’s: Planet (biosphere), People (sociosphere), and Profits (econosphere).

Triple bottom line performance framework

Triple Bottom line
Triple Bottom Line thinking has greatly influenced business practice.

What distinguishes TBL from the previous classical capital/finance performance frameworks is that TBL looks beyond a company’s shareholders and brings in its stakeholders, and names the ‘natural environment as the primary and primordial stakeholder of the firm’ (Driscoll and Starik 2004).  Thus defined, a primordial stakeholder is any living thing that is influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the actions of entrepreneurial activity.  In its corporate investment decision-making processes, TBL uses Earth-monitoring performance measures such as life-cycle analysis; gap analysis, eco-efficiency ratios and measures; industrial ecology and supply chain linkages; emissions tracking; sources of greenhouse gas and reduction targets; and internal carbon dollar value.

In this section, we have extended capital/finance frameworks of entrepreneurial venture funding into the realm of the biosphere.  We see that there is more to entrepreneurial capital seeking than money, and more to entrepreneurial performance measures that shareholder value.  As we move forward, entrepreneurs must take into consideration the sources of capital with the goal of adding value to the biosphere.  We will return to the three spheres as we developed a general theory of biosphere entrepreneurship.

Allocation frameworks

Now let us examine Baumol’s allocation framework and its relationship to biosphere entrepreneurship.  Sustainability and climate change would not have been at the front of William Baumol’s mind in 1990, when he penned his now-famous ‘Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive’ (1990).  Arguably the leading thinker about entrepreneurship and innovation since Joseph Schumpeter, Baumol (1990, 894) presented a provocative ontological thesis.  Allocation of entrepreneurial activity is socially determined and is heavily influenced by the relative payoff prospects.  What mattered was not the number, or supply, of entrepreneurs that drove economic growth and innovation, but how society allocated their activity–whether or not they devoted their energies to creating ‘productive’ innovations that add to economic growth, or to ‘unproductive’ and ‘destructive’ activity such as do fraudsters, property owners, rent-seekers, and criminal entrepreneurs.  What mattered was how some societies had incentivized growth-producing (not unproductive or destructive) entrepreneurs.  For example, some economies reward entrepreneurs that innovate in ways that do not contribute to growth, such as finding clever ways to win patronage from the state, creating monopolies, or engaging in crime.

The purpose of the present research is to take Baumol into a new context, namely the biosphere, and to imagine what he might have written if he had considered this.  One wonders what Baumol would have written today.  Would he have gone beyond his three categories and added a fourth kind of entrepreneurial activity, called ‘Annihilative’, to describe entrepreneurs who plunder the planet? 

Extending Baumol’s types of entrepreneurs

Extending Baumol's types of entrepreneurs
I have added ‘annihilative’ to the Baumol-Schumpeter model.

Baumol begins by adding a new component to Schumpeter’s well-known four-part framework (1934, 66 (1912)) of how entrepreneurs use combinations of resources and technology to exploit the market.  Schumpeter saw innovation resulting from (1) a new good; (2) a new production method; (3) a new market; (4) a new supply of raw materials[i].  Baumol added a fifth category, (5) non-value-creating activities, such as tax evasion, excessive litigation, and rent seeking, which he calls ‘unproductive’ entrepreneurship.  Rent seeking here means that the there is no overall value-gain–only redistribution of existing revenue streams to the benefit or detriment of one or another actor in the value chain.  Following this argument, there is always a trade-off between innovation and growth (productive entrepreneurs) and redistributing existing wealth (unproductive rent-seekers) (Murphy, Shleifer, and Vishny 1991).  Baumol’s point is that there is no use in increasing the supply of entrepreneurs. What matters is moving the allocation of entrepreneurs out of unproductive activities and into ones that are more productive, by changing prevailing rules and policies that govern payoffs of one entrepreneurial activity relative to another.

Note that the title of Baumol’s article was ‘Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive’ [emphasis added].  Regrettably, Baumol did not elaborate much on destructive entrepreneurship. But Desai and Acs’s ‘Theory of Destructive Entrepreneurship’ has helped us to fill in Baumol’s gap.  They point out that while productive entrepreneurship [is] rent-creating, and unproductive entrepreneurship [is] rent seeking, . . . destructive entrepreneurship is rent-destroying’.  Destructive entrepreneurship has a negative effect on the economy and diminishes the inputs for production (Desai and Acs 2007, 6, 14).

To these three categories—productive, unproductive, and destructive–in the present era of biosphere entrepreneurship, the present author adds ‘annihilative entrepreneurship’ (see Table).  The difference lies in how the entrepreneur capture rents and whether the resulting destruction of rents is recoverable or notProductive entrepreneurs capture rents to the benefit of further growth.  Unproductive entrepreneurs (think fraudsters) appropriate rents without adding to collective value.  Destructive entrepreneurs (think criminals) destroy rents but recovery from this calamity is still possible.  Annihilative entrepreneurs (think ivory hunters) destroy rents, and the damage is catastrophic and irrecoverable.  Desai and Acs (2007) proposed a framework showing the principal differences between productive, unproductive, and destructive entrepreneurship, to which the present author has added the far-right hand column and the bottom rows in italics.

Allocation of productive, non-production, destructive, and annihilative entrepreneurship

Allocation of productive, non-production, destructive, and annihilative entrepreneurship
This is a spectrum of ways that we allocate entrepreneurial activity through incentives and regulations. Annihilative entrepreneurs have contributed greatly to the climate crisis.

Entrepreneurial risk and survival frameworks

We now move on to other frameworks that illustrates the emergence of biosphere entrepreneurship and lend themselves to theory building. Throughout the literature, researchers have categorized entrepreneurial risks that play an important role in an entrepreneur’s calculated success or failure, or better said, the demise of a venture due to outside factors (see for example, Baggs 2005; Esteve-Pérez and Mañez-Castillejo 2008; Lewis and Churchill 1983; Stearns et al. 1995).  Janney and Dess (2006) listed financial, career, family, social, and psychic risks. Ebben (2005) added market, operational, financial model, financial, and opportunity risks.  Vonortas and Kim (2015, 123) listed technology, timing, competition, market, and IPR risks.  Mason and Harrison (2004, 317–318) added management, agency, market, technology, valuation, project, growth, and timing risks. 

Nevertheless, the present era presents far graver risks.  What is the role of entrepreneurs in a climate change-battered world, one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation? (M. Klare 2012; M. T. Klare 2017).  To date, the entrepreneurship research community has failed to elucidate risks at the existential level—ones that threaten the entire future of humanity. 

We extend Bostom’s (2013) risk framework (see Figure) mapped against entrepreneurial action.  Across the X-axis, we measure severity of risk from the (1) imperceptible, to the (2) endurable but not ruinous to the (3) crushing, and to the (4) hellish and life-extinguishing types of risk.  Up the Y-axis, we can depict the scope of risk from the (a) personal and (b) local, to the (c) global and (d) trans-generational, and to the (e) pan-generational and even (f) cosmic risks.  Some risks affect humanity across multiple generations through such dangers as nuclear warfare, global tyranny, disappearance of the ozone layer, destruction of culture, pandemics, and climate change.  For example, the above-cited Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change estimated a 9.5% risk of human extinction by 2100 (2006, Chapter 2, Technical appendix, 47). Estimates of 10-20% total existential risk are fairly common (Bostrom 2013; Bostrom and Cirkovic 2011; Cotton-Barratt et al. 2015; Sandberg and Bostrom 2008). 

Risk and scope for entrepreneurial action

Risk and scope for entrepreneurial action
The questions remain open whether entrepreneurs can address their higher-order global catastrophic risks not to mention crushing and hellish existential risks.

How do these catastrophic and existential risks affect entrepreneurial action?  What actions can entrepreneurs take to adapt to or mitigate these risks? We can see (Figure in the pink-shaded areas) that entrepreneurs have been able to take action on some of the risks and calamities that face us by taking advantage of opportunities and designing solutions (in bold italics) at the personal, local and global levels, especially at the level of ‘imperceptible’ severity.  However, as we move toward the upper right, entrepreneurial actions have had less to offer, with geoengineering entrepreneurs[ii] perhaps the first to cross into action on global catastrophic risk.  The questions remain open whether entrepreneurs can address their higher-order global catastrophic risks not to mention crushing and hellish existential risks.

From this perspective of survival, entrepreneurship research has yet to come to grips with existential risks.  Some believe that entrepreneurial ventures can ‘contribut[e] to human wellbeing and the functioning of ecological systems . . . adapting human activities to correspond with that aspired future’ (Parrish 2007, iii, 37).  Yet entrepreneurs themselves frequently act as if no crisis existed.  Indeed, little of the extant literature examines how entrepreneurship affects the conditions of human survival or values ‘enterprise that recognizes the necessary interdependence of human development, economic activity and our place on Mother Earth’ (Campbell 2008, 165). 

Despite the dearth in our own field, evolutionary economics has extensively treated the subject (see Gowdy 2013; Mulder and Van Den Bergh 2001; Safarzyńska and van den Bergh 2010; Van den Bergh 2007a; Van den Bergh 2007b; Van Den Bergh and Gowdy 2000).  Entrepreneurship research–the exceptions being Potts, Foster, and Stratton (2010) and Breslin (2008)—has been poor in mapping entrepreneurial action against energy and material flows, system resilience, and co-evolutionary processes, and especially how entrepreneurship is constrained by and affects Earth’s carrying capacity,

In sum, the expectation of existential risks should encourage entrepreneurs to open up new opportunity spaces (Boons and Wagner 2009).  Entrepreneurial action can adapt to or mitigate an environmental stressor rather than be limited by it (Rammel 2003). In states of uncertainty, entrepreneurs recognize negative environmental effects which, when revealed, stimulate entrepreneurial activity that may mitigate such effects (Potts, Foster, and Straton 2010).  From an ontological framework perspective, if entrepreneurship is responsive to environmental degradation, we could argue that a co-evolutionary connection exists between the economy and ecological systems, as the Stern Reports imply above.

Entrepreneurial value and disvalue creation frameworks

Critical to the present analysis is how we as societies and economies view value within the context of opportunity and allocation of entrepreneurial activity.  Our literature has evolved in the ways it views value.  Early authors identified value as the purposeful initiating, maintaining, or aggrandizing profit (Cole 1959, 7).  Anderson (1998, 137) argued that if we reduce entrepreneurship to its essence, we can see that what entrepreneurs do is to create and extract value from a situation.  Today, scholars see growth as the positive entrepreneurial force for renewal (Carland et al. 1984; Davidsson, Delmar, and Wiklund 2006; Davidsson 1989; Gartner 1990; Venkataraman 1997). 

Yet current global crises have brought to light some myopia in that thinking.  We have come to realize that value sometimes has deleterious consequences; and that value creation can occur without regard to the unsustainable extraction of finite resources.  The reasoning is, as many have suggested, that value and its opposite, disvalue, are influenced by the context of the economy, society, and the planet, as well as by the incentives given to entrepreneurs (William J. Baumol 1990b; C. Steyaert and Bouwen 1997; A. R. Anderson and Smith 2007; Fletcher 2006; Jack and Anderson 1998; B. J. Gray et al. 2014; Blundell, Griffith, and Reenen 1995).  Recent scholars have contrasted value creation with disvalue creation, also referred to as the creation of ‘negative worth’ (Jolink and Niesten 2015; Schaltegger, Lüdeke-Freund, and Hansen 2016).  This contrarian position goes back to Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful ((1973) 2011), who argued for ‘economics as if people matter’. We humans use one and a half Earths worth of biocapacity every year.  Perhaps Schumacher might have said ‘entrepreneurship as if the planet mattered’.  Overall, entrepreneurship theory has largely overlooked the negative externalities of opportunistic entrepreneurship.  Let us examine a framework of entrepreneurial value and disvalue. 

We begin by seeing that the three spheres of human activity (from Boulding, above) and their intersections define seven types of value creation, each with its own objectives, processes, outputs, and outcomes[iii]. Let us compare Value and Disvalue Creation framework Cohen et al. (2008, 109–116) with an invented Disvalue Creation framework[iv] (see Figure). 

Cohen’s Seven nodes of value and disvalue creation

Cohen's Seven nodes of value and disvalue creation
Cohn rightly distinguishes value from disvalue.

Entrepreneurial value and disvalue creation

Entrepreneurial value and disvalue creation
Entrepreneurship can create performance or dysfunction; promise or abrogation; or perpetuity or impermanence. Only ‘Positive Entrepreneurship’ can guarantee eco- and social-efficiency and stewardship.

The learnings in this section are that entrepreneurs, as they seek and recognize opportunities, are sometimes driven to create disvalue by unproductive, destructive, and annihilative motivations (see W. J. Baumol 1990, above).  Human beings routinely create value and disvalue, whereas Nature always creates value (Balazs 2013).  Disvalue presupposes negative worth by destroying value.  Some entrepreneurs choose climate-resilient pathways that traverse opportunity space and add value to the biosphere.  Others with different motivations and allocative factors produce disvalues, namely deleterious effects on the economy, society and environment. 

Entrepreneurial growth frameworks

Here we examine a growth framework that relates to biosphere entrepreneurship.  The classical economic growth paradigm (Rostow 1959; Solow 1956) sought to optimize resources within an equilibrium environment.  Give that the classical paradigm does not well account for the wanton consumption of natural resources, nor the impact of technology, we should review this framework within the context of our present enterprise. 

In our research tradition, Schumpeter challenged the classical growth paradigm of a stable state of balanced growth by introducing what he called the disruptive entrepreneur.  As Schumpeter saw it, a normal, healthy economy was not balanced, was not in equilibrium.  Rather it was constantly being ‘disrupted’ by innovation.  Drawing upon Kondratieff (1922), Schumpeter (1939) described ‘long waves’, or business cycles driven by clusters of industries/technologies that introduced new sets of innovations in (see Figure). The entrepreneur’s role was to drive this process of creative destruction and accelerate the ever-shortening cycles, thus allowing the economy to renew itself and bound forward and upwards (The Economist 1999; Joseph Alois Schumpeter 1950, 80–86).  Schumpeter said it is ‘the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.  This process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism’ (pg. 83). 

Growth framework of Kondratieff / Schumpeterian related to Stress on carrying capacity

Growth framework of Kondratieff / Schumpeterian related to Stress on carrying capacity
The limits of Earth’s carrying capacity correspond to Kondratieff’s long cycles.

To relate this to biosphere entrepreneurship, let us make one small change to Schumpeter’s (Kondratieff’s) theory of long cycles of industrial innovation. We simply re-label the Y-axis. Schumpeter had called it ‘Innovation’; here we change it to Stress on Earth’s carry capacity’, and make no other changes.  We see that each industrial cycle increases the burden of stresses on Earth’s carrying capacity and results in a ‘peak curve’ followed by demise and destruction.  This corresponds to Hubbert’s peak resource theory, which predicts the depletion of various natural resources (Black 2014; N. F. Gray 2015; Hubbert 1982).  A peak curve applies to any resource that is harvested faster than it can be replaced. Hubbert used it initially to measure the end of finite resources, such as coal, oil, natural gas and uranium, but the theory is now used with other depleting resources such as ecosystem services in the biosphere (Bostan et al. 2012; Franchetti and Apul 2012; Holmgren 2012). 

Indeed, to recover resources and return to equilibrium growth, some researchers have proposed the exact opposite to the classical framework.  It is called the ‘de-growth’ framework.  The de-growth framework confronts traditional ideas of incessant growth, consumerism and capitalism (Andersson and Eriksson 2010; Buch-Hansen 2014; Kallis 2011; Klitgaard and Krall 2012; Victor 2012; Assadourian 2012).  De-growth is defined as an ‘equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions’ (Schneider, Kallis, and Martinez-Alier 2010, 512).  In this view, entrepreneurs may find opportunities in decoupling resource consumption from economic growth.  De-growth opportunity seekers might spot the need for resource and pollution caps and sanctuaries, infrastructure moratoria, eco-taxes, work sharing and reduced working hours.  We can also imagine opportunities in eco-villages and co-housing, cooperative production and consumption, various systems of sharing, and community-issued currencies.  De-growth need not mean a decrease in wellbeing, or indeed of individual profit.

McDonough & Braungart (2002) challenged entrepreneurs to envision a ‘re-growth framework’ without waste and poisons, a world in which materials are continuously recycled/upcycled from the economy in and out of the biosphere (see Figure).

Re-growth framework of McDonough & Braungart

Re-growth framework of McDonough & Braungart
Models human enterprise on nature’s processes, viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms.

 The key to re-growth is making the economy work for the environment instead of against it, which has a deleterious impact on the environment in terms of pollution and is expensive since new materials have to be manufactured from scratch every time.  In the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ framework, green ‘nutrients’ feed into the production process. They can be continuously useful (recyclable) over repeated production without losing their integrity or quality.  Some will ultimately be ‘down-cycled’ into lesser products, and will finally become waste.  Others will be up-cycled into higher value-added products.  Through design and manufacturing techniques, entrepreneurs could build products that can be fully re-grown for the biosphere (natural capital) or re-gained for the econosphere (manufactured capital).

In this section we have examined growth, de-growth, and re-growth frameworks as they relate to Earth’s carrying capacity.  The classical growth paradigm suffers for its equilibrium requirements, new technology, and particularly because it does not account for the heedless exploitation of resources without a thought to replenishment.  The Schumpeter/Kondratieff framework, with one change to its y-axis, accounts for diminishment of natural capital and relates well to ‘peak resource’ theory.  We then addressed the novel de-growth and re-growth frameworks as they relate to entrepreneurial action.  Using these extensions to the canonical growth framework, we can envision a world in which entrepreneurs could take advantage of reversing growth through upcycling of materials.

Socio-cultural frameworks

Many biosphere-consequential behaviours are strongly influence by external factors (Gardner and Stern 1996; P. C. Stern 1999). Within entrepreneurship research, this framework is unsuitably called the environmental framework because it refers to factors in the surrounding context (Alvarez and Urbano 2012; Dubini 1987; Edelman and Yli-Renko 2010; Hayton, George, and Zahra 2002; Nguyen, Frederick, and Nguyen 2014; York and Venkataraman 2010). But for reasons of clarity vis-à-vis the present topic, we will call it the socio-cultural framework, as many have done (Begley and Tan 2001; Koe and Majid 2014; Shivani, Mukherjee, and Sharan 2006; Thornton, Ribeiro-Soriano, and Urbano 2011; Toledano and Ribeiro-Soriano 2011)

Socio-cultural frameworks traditionally look at factors, conditions and influences external to the entrepreneur that affect the emergence of a new venture.  This refers to phenomena such as social and cultural beliefs, altruism, behaviour, lifestyles, religion, family, education and social conditioning (Van de Ven 1993).  Prominent examples of this framework include Hofstede’s (1984) cultural dimensions model, and Trompenaars and Hampton-Turner’s (1998) human-nature dimensions.  The question thus arises whether there are socio-cultural factors that influence the emergence of biosphere entrepreneurs.  While work is being done on the impact of socio-cultural factors on social entrepreneurs (Koe et al. 2012; I. A. Majid and Koe 2012; Shivani, Mukherjee, and Sharan 2006; Thornton, Ribeiro-Soriano, and Urbano 2011), nothing has yet been written on the impact of these factors on biosphere entrepreneurs

While we could and should take each of these phenomena and map them against biosphere entrepreneurship, due to spatial reasons, we must leave that to others.  However, given some empirical evidence of the relationship (Nordlund and Garvill 2003; Schultz and Zelezny 1999; Schultz and Zelezny 1998), let it suffice for the present task to examine one socio-cultural framework, that of entrepreneurial altruism, and its relationship to the biosphere (see Figure).

Framework of the socio-cultural aspect of biospheric altruism

Framework of the socio-cultural aspect of biospheric altruism
How biospheric altruism is distinguished from self-interest and social altruism.

History reveals that there are those entrepreneurs who took advantage of the instrumental value of Earth’s resources rather than cherishing and replenishing their intrinsic value.  Again, drawing upon Boulding’s (1966) three activity spheres, at the base in the econosphere we have self-interested entrepreneurs who seek economic expediency and exploits the environment with impunity.  We call this the egocentric approach. At the top we have biosphere entrepreneurs who seek intrinsic value, namely to ‘preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community’ (Leopold 1970, 18).  We will call this the ecocentric approach.  In between these two, we have conspecific entrepreneurs, also known as social entrepreneurs, namely those who seek to benefit members of the same species and community. 

Drawing upon climate change sociology and particularly Values-Beliefs-Norms (VBN) theory (Dietz, Fitzgerald, A, and Shwom, R 2005; P. Stern 2000; P. C. Stern et al. 1999; Zehr 2015), let us examine a framework of biospheric altruism.  At the base, we have the self-maximizing egocentric entrepreneurs seeking benefit for self and kin, who are inattentive or ignorant of the consequences on society or the biosphere, and who may suffer, as Bandura (1986; 2001; 1996) suggests, from a ‘moral disengagement’ that harms the biosphere.  Do these entrepreneurs structure their actions so they appear less harmful, shift accountability to others, or shift blame to the victims?  Or is it, as Shepherd et al. (2013, 1252) posit, that, in conditions of low self-efficacy and high perceived resource-scarcity, entrepreneurs use moral disengagement to adjust their values in to neutralize their harming the planet?  We categorize them as egocentric. 

Beyond egocentric self-interest we have social altruism, where an entrepreneur temporarily reduces his own social fitness while increasing another’s fitness in the expectation that the other will act similarly at a later time (Trivers 1971).  Human cooperation and benevolence can be understood as ‘resulting from networks of indirect reciprocity’ (Alexander 1987, 3–20).  In this realm, we have the social entrepreneurs who move beyond self-interest to create value for their conspecifics and the broader community. At this level, entrepreneurs are moved to add value to the community. 

Then there is biospheric altruism, where entrepreneurs go beyond individual self-interest and even community benefit to add value to ecosystems (Dietz, Fitzgerald, A, and Shwom, R 2005; P. C. Stern and Dietz 1994).  These entrepreneurs launch ventures that contribute to the planet and to ecosystem services.  Biosphere entrepreneurs are motivated by an altruism to support ecological resilience by adding value to the biosphere.

In this section, we have used altruism as one example to map the relationship of socio-cultural factors to biosphere entrepreneurship.  The main difference is where the ‘value-add’ goes.  Does it go into one’s pocket or into the social community, as business and social entrepreneurs might do, respectively?  Or is there a third category of biosphere entrepreneurs affected by socio-cultural factors who prefer to add value to natural capital?  Other researchers should find this a fecund area in mapping other socio-cultural factors. 

Entrepreneurial opportunity frameworks

Finally, and not least importantly, we have the opportunity framework.  Opportunity is so fundamental to entrepreneurship that for centuries understanding it has been one of the primary preoccupations of our research.  Cantillon’s entrepreneur (Hébert and Link 2009, 7–19; Cantillon 2001 (1755)) identified opportunities as market discrepancies seeking new point of equilibrium. Schumpeter’s (1934) entrepreneur disrupted existing markets and created new ones.  Kirzner (1985) placed emphasis on the entrepreneur’s alertness to opportunities are ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered.  Attention has also focused on social opportunities, different from economic opportunities seeking to satisfy needs not satisfied by the market (Phills, Deiglmeier, and Miller 2008).  In the end, identifying and shaping opportunity is so central to our enterprise that Shane and Venkataraman (2000, 218) define our very field as ‘how, by whom, and with what effects opportunities to create future goods and services are discovered, evaluated, and exploited’.  Indeed, many quip that entrepreneurs never waste a good crisis because they recognize opportunities where others see chaos or confusion (Dagnino and Mariani 2007; Dimov 2011; Gielnik, Zacher, and Frese 2012; Tang, Kacmar, and Busenitz 2012).  Entrepreneurs seek ‘opportunity spaces’ (Schindehutte and Morris 2009; crediting De Landa 1997); this could be no truer than in the present age when entrepreneurs face the existential threat of climate change and global warming.

Biosphere opportunists

Each of the opportunity frameworks mentioned above—market discrepancies, disruption, alertness, and social innovation—has found its ‘opportunists’ within biosphere entrepreneurship. 

  • Cantillon’s entrepreneurs are seen in such arenas as emissions trading, biodiversity offsets, payments for ecosystems services (PES) and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) schemes. 
  • Kirzner’s alertness entrepreneurs are bountiful in climate change-induced problems of population (aging, youth, overpopulation), water (pollution, sanitation), food (protein/water consumption ratio, drought resistant strains), fossil fuels (clean energy, emissions control), and biodiversity (aquaculture, genetic diversity, ecosystem brokering, ecotourism).
  • Finally, social opportunity entrepreneurs have launched new forms of community planning, fair trade, habitat conservation, labor standards, and microfinance.

By reconciling and merging these frameworks, we arrive at the biosphere opportunity framework (Adapted from Field et al. 2014, 29) (see Figure).  Biosphere opportunity spaces are arenas in which entrepreneurs identify opportunities to create value for a more resilient planet.  Opportunity spaces are pressure points created by both the physical and social worlds and reveal the gaps, market failures, unmet needs of the Planet. 

Biosphere opportunity space framework

Biosphere opportunity space framework
Biophysical stressors threaten our world and reduce our resilience space, thus opening and closing opportunity spaces, which entrepreneurs espy.

Narrating this framework from left to right, our world (a) is threatened from the outside by biophysical stressors, such as climate change and degradation of ecosystems; and from the inside by social and economic stressors, such as unrestrained economic growth, exploitation with impunity, population increase, poverty and inequality.  These stressors expand and contract the resilience space, which is Earth’s capacity to become strong, healthy, and to recover.  Entrepreneurs operate within an Opportunity Space (b), where they face multiple decision points (d) and pathways that lead to different possible futures (c), each with differing sizes of resilience space—small, medium, and large (hatched areas).  Entrepreneurs take advantage of these pathways and exploit routes to market in which they act (or fail to act), or in which they manage (or fail to manage) risks related to the planet’s resilience. Some pathways (e) can lead to a world with lower risk and higher resilience (top right) while others (f) lead to higher risk and lower resilience (bottom right).

Natural Step framework: narrowing margin for entrepreneurial opportunity

Natural Step framework: narrowing margin for entrepreneurial opportunity
Entrepreneurs see that the margin for action is narrowing toward a sustainable future.

A second entrepreneurial opportunity framework has been called ‘The Natural Step’ (Alexius and Furusten 2013; Bradbury and Clair 1999; Herbertson and Tipler 2006; Holmberg 2006; Holmberg, Robert, and Eriksson 1996; Martin and Schouten 2014; B. Nattrass and Altomare 1999; Brian Nattrass and Altomare 2013). Imagine looking at a giant funnel on its side. The upper wall represents declining supply, which we hope will reach a sustainable equilibrium of available resources and the ability of the ecosystem to continue to provide them. The lower wall is increasing demand, which we hope will reach a sustainable equilibrium between demand and the ecosystem’s ability to create them.  The things we need to survive food, clean air and water, productive topsoil and others are in decline while the demand for them is increasing, which leads to a narrowing margin for action and opportunity (see Figure).  Meanwhile, as the funnel narrows there are fewer options and less room to maneuver, with actions bumping against the wall (blotches).  The entrepreneurial opportunity space is that narrowing passage path toward future sustainability. 

To summarize this section, we have reviewed entrepreneurial opportunity frameworks and reconciled them, showing paths that entrepreneurs can choose toward a sustainable and more resilient future.  The basic learning is that there is narrowing scope for entrepreneurial action as the biophysical and socio-economic stressors reduce Earth’s resilience and our collective capacity to help the planet recover.  During the historical transition from entrepreneurship based on extraction of resources with impunity to value-adding to the biosphere, entrepreneurs must address the complexity and the dynamics of ecosystems and climate in relation to social and economic activity. In the face of technological change, the uncertainty of consumer expectations, and the unpredictability of new regulations, entrepreneurs must learn not to violate conditions that systematically undermine Earth’s capacity to meet present and future needs of humanity (Norton 2012, 167).

Toward a theory of biosphere entrepreneurship

Taking the frameworks developed above, we now advance a synthesis.  In the era of industrial entrepreneurship, from the nineteenth century through to the new millennium, entrepreneurs were not obliged to consider the environment in their planning and design.  They focused on extraction of resources with little regard to their replenishment and on global distribution without regard to distance. The history of entrepreneurship shows that entrepreneurs were not typically oriented towards the prevention of negative effects, to the reversal of degradation, or to net improvement in the physical universe. In the age of industrial entrepreneurs, waste was not a design consideration.  The result was that some entrepreneurs (think Henry Ford and Thomas Edison) had a negative impact on the environment.

Now, in the age of sustainable entrepreneurship, we need to consider the biosphere as a locus for entrepreneurial activity, understand the biospheric factors that influence opportunity, consider the waste embodied in products, and develop techniques to add value to rather that extract from the biosphere. We need to move beyond zero-sum input–output analysis without regard to the consequences and to apply new concepts that take into account the ‘living dimension’ of the products and services that we produce.  This leads us to a tentative reconciled theory of biosphere entrepreneurship (see Figure).

Beginning on the right, we see illustrative frameworks of observed phenomena (covered in this article) that influence entrepreneurship action within their respective spheres of activity.  Not discounting hybrids and crossovers, there are three types of (stereotypical) entrepreneurs.  The commercial entrepreneur takes personal risks and profits personally.  We call this quality egocentrism, not at all in a negative sense.  These self-maximizing entrepreneurs have created value for themselves and their shareholders.  At the next level, we have the social entrepreneur who aims to contribute value to conspecifics through community and social action.  Finally, we have biosphere entrepreneurs who seek to increase resilience and capital in the complete system, in fact, to compensate for past and accelerating consumption, losses of biodiversity and threats to humanity.

Integrated theory of biosphere entrepreneurship

Integrated theory of biosphere entrepreneurship
The theory of biosphere entrepreneurship incorporates diverse frameworks to reveal the effects of positive and negative entrepreneurship particularly on ecosystem services.

 Turning to the left-hand side of entrepreneurial actions, from a material point of view, we can see objects (O) passing from the waste-free biosphere through the sociosphere into the realm of entrepreneurial opportunity within econosphere through the process of resource extraction and production.  Next, after entrepreneurs are done with these resources, they pass them out of the econosphere as waste.  Their value usually becomes negative (-), in other words, damaging to the environment and resulting in a net biosphere deficit.  Throughout the history of entrepreneurship, there has been an uneven, negative exchange to the biosphere resulting in a net deficit to the planet.  This is ultimately unsustainable or what we call ‘negative entrepreneurship’.  

Example of Positive Entrepreneurship

Recycling usually means separating materials for disposal, but here we make the distinction between down-cycling and up-cycling. Down-cycling transforms waste materials and goods into lower uses. While it may address post-consumer waste, this is a small fraction of the waste entailed in extraction and processing. The obvious example is the recycling of plastics, which turns them into lower grade plastics without regard to the huge energy losses that were incurred in their production.  With up-cycling, waste materials are advanced into new, higher-value products. This is the practice of taking something that is disposable and repurposing it into a product of higher quality. An example would be reconstructing old mattresses, repairing and reusing carpet squares, turning wooden pallets into designer furniture and converting waste into art, edible chopsticks and compostable shoes, fashion & homewares made from PET bottles and fire hoses, and camping gear that is taken back and repaired when it is worn out a.

This could be different.  Positive entrepreneurship (+) can generate positive impacts through value adding and eliminating designed waste, duplication, disposability, planned obsolescence and wasteful end purposes. Positive entrepreneurs can create net positive-impact loop systems and innovations that create levers for biophysical improvements and social transformation. Entrepreneurs can trigger ‘impact loops’ of two types:  They can amplify degradation or they can add to restoration in the biosphere.  They create net positive impacts (not less negative or even neutral ones) in order restore the biosphere to pre-anthropogenic degradation and to lessen ecological footprint of human beings (Birkland 2008; Cohen and Winn 2007; Dean and McMullen 2007a; Kury 2012a; Shepherd and Patzelt 2011a; Desha, Timothy Beatley, and Birkeland 2016; Dean and McMullen 2007b; Kury 2012b). With up-cycling, waste materials are advanced into new, higher-value products. This is the practice of taking something that is disposable and repurposing it into a product of higher quality.

Negative and positive forms of entrepreneurship

Negative and positive forms of entrepreneurship

In this section, we have advanced a combination of frameworks.  We distinguished industrial versus sustainable entrepreneurship in historical terms.  We now must think of the biosphere as a locus for entrepreneurial activity and take into account the ‘living dimension’ of what we produce.  We then examine the material flows of biosphere resources into the zone of entrepreneurial opportunity, and observed that some of those resources are negative devalued.  Positive entrepreneurs need to trigger impact loops that restore the biosphere and increase its resilience. 


What have we accomplished here?  On the one hand, we have reviewed and extended extant frameworks that have been substantiated by informed observers in the fields of entrepreneurship and sustainability using pictorial images.  These included entrepreneurial risk frameworks as well as frameworks that deal with finance and capital, growth, society and culture, and opportunity.  We have answered the research questions in the affirmative:  There is something here.  We have established that there is a third kind of entrepreneurship beyond business and social entrepreneurship.  We have been able to sort observations into categories, extend some existing frameworks, and envision a model that ties threads together.  We have been able to satisfy Kuratko et al. (2015, 3) by opening up a new approach to entrepreneurship theory by expanding the context into the biosphere and deepening theory. 

Drawing upon these concepts and structures, the author depicted a candidate theoretical model of biosphere entrepreneurship showing how Earth, people and the entrepreneurial economy are connected. The theoretical model thus presented shows the flow of energy and materials taken from and returned to the biosphere. For the most part, throughout the history of entrepreneurship this is an uneven exchange. Unsustainable (or negative) entrepreneurs have extracted and plundered resources, thus depleting Earth’s natural capital and decreasing its resilience.  Normally entrepreneurs return these resources to the biosphere as waste in devalued form. Sustainable (or positive) entrepreneurship means returning resources in value-added form.

In the end, we see now to produce a cohort of positive entrepreneurship who can generate positive impacts through value adding and eliminating designed waste, duplication, disposability, planned obsolescence and wasteful end purposes. Insodoing, they can create net positive-impact loop systems and innovations that create levers for biophysical improvements and social transformation.


The scope of this paper is wide and there are many implications to my research.  Below, I discuss the implications on entrepreneurship education.  I believe my framework analysis and candidate theory are fecund enough that researchers could begin asking about the implications of biosphere entrepreneurship in other areas. 

Implications for entrepreneurship education

That said, I would like to comment in extenso on the implications of biosphere entrepreneurship on how we educate our entrepreneurs.  Sadly, resource depletion and overpopulation are both products of the enterprising spirit.  Climate change is the issue of the millennial generation. As Gen Y and Z see the world’s greatest cities risk disappearing under water during their lifetimes, as they see the hottest summers in recorded history occurring before their eyes, and as they see that species alive during their parents’ lives are disappearing, the call to save the world has become compelling. Climate change will have a significant impact on our students’ incomes and wealth during their peak earning years. Already, Generation Z, those born 1995–2009, who never knew the pre-internet world, is entering universities. They will be followed by Generation Alpha, those born after 2010, who will fare even worse (Bailey 2016; Demos 2016).  The see evidence of negative entrepreneurship of the Age of Industry, one that is inherently selfish, based both on positive motivations (individual enterprise and self-enrichment through the investment of personal effort in conditions of uncertainty) and negative ones (wasteful resource-consumption model of ‘capture and exploit’, with waste or sub-optimal use of natural, physical, human and other resources being of little concern) (Rae 2010). 

Every aspect of a good entrepreneurship course–from strategy and marketing, to business planning and intrapreneurship, and from mind-set to ethics—should deal in some way with the existential threats facing our young entrepreneurs.  Here is a review of what teachers could be imparting. 

  • Basics:  Students need to know that economic growth and entrepreneurial activity are inextricably linked to environmental effects. Safety on Earth is slipping away.  Innovation and enterprise can be a pathway to resilience and recovery. Entrepreneurs who understand the new climate reality–and are willing to invest in preparedness and risk management–are best equipped to seize opportunities.  Entrepreneurs who respond to the challenge will reap success. 
  • Climate change economics: Students need to understand the relationship of entrepreneurship to environmental economics. Market failures motivate environmentally degrading behaviour. Entrepreneurs can cause negative externalities, where costs to the environment spill over onto the consumer and the public, leading to the ‘tragedy of the commons’. They need to know how to hedge against physical climate risk, mitigate regulatory costs or improve/repair corporate reputations through green business. They need to know how to manage climate risk in the supply chain, invest in low-carbon activities, and innovate new technology that sells while improving the planet.   They need to understand climate-related revenue drivers (pass-throughs to customers; carbon credits; low-carbon substitute products; impact of weather patterns on revenue), as well as cost drivers (regulatory; emissions tax; price increase in materials; energy costs; insurance premiums).
  • Some entrepreneurs engage in environmental crime. The most morally questionable entrepreneurs are environmental crime enterprises. These syndicates carry out illegal fishing, illegal trade in wildlife and timber, smuggling of ozone depleting substances, illegal disposal of asbestos, shipment of animal parts for health remedies, illegal trade in charcoal, or trade in hazardous waste—all to benefit the criminal entrepreneur and his syndicate. They can relate environmental crimes that have occurred near them, including strip mining, damming of rivers that drive out people, atomic energy failures, industrial pollution, etc.
  • Innovation in the era of climate change.  There are already a myriad of wind and solar technologies that are cost-effective. Ultimately, the green revolution is going to be carried by engineers and entrepreneurs who can break down the barriers to the market and commercialize existing technologies. We need innovators to team up with entrepreneurs to produce and market all sorts of breakthroughs by creating and responding to demand. Only entrepreneurs can take this much innovation to the marketplace. Only entrepreneurs can generate and allocate enough capital fast enough to commercialize them.  The candidates for top sustainable 21st century innovations include: genetic engineering; artificial trees; species preservation; geoengineering; carbon sequestration; free non-fossil fuel power systems; gene sequencing; hydrogen-powered cars; methane-fueled rockets; waste management; weather prediction.  In their product planning, the entrepreneur should include methods of manufacturing and distribution that ensure a minimal environmental impact. They should consider creating products with significantly longer life spans. By creating products, which can be upgraded, retro-fitted or are simply indestructible, we can communicate to consumers the inherent environmental and cost benefits of purchasing a product which will last a generation.
  • Design thinking for the environment. Design thinking may be unfamiliar to some entrepreneurship educators, but it is a process is a series of steps meant to bring an idea to a fully realized product for a specified client.  The world’s design community has much to contribute to how we approach education.  It move the debate away from disvalue and toward value creation. 
  • Social intrapreneurship: Social intrapreneurs demonstrate that business and social values can be aligned. This is nowhere as true as in the field of environmental sustainability by delivering solutions or products that both add value to the company’s bottom line as well as to society and the planet. Social intrapreneurs see businesses as part of the Earth ecosystem and needing to add value to society and the environment as well as to the bottom line
  • Green entrepreneurial marketing: Recyclability, re-usability, biodegradation, and positive health effects are definitely in.  Marketing can decouple material consumption from consumer value and can facilitate both innovation and choice for sustainable consumption. It can help consumers to find, choose and use sustainable products and services, by providing information, ensuring availability and affordability, and setting the appropriate tone through marketing communications.  Global consumption patterns are unsustainable and efficiency gains and technological advances alone will not be sufficient to bring global consumption to a sustainable level. Changes will also be required to consumer lifestyles, including the ways in which consumers choose and use products and services.
  • Entrepreneurial strategy and sustainable development: Entrepreneurial strategy involves the art of managing assets that one does not own. Now there is an increasing realization that the Earth’s resources also fall into this category. New millennial entrepreneurs have to confront the challenges of how to put a strategy in place that at the same time grows the company as well as protects those resources that we do not own.  New strategy tools are important for young entrepreneurs to learn.  The Sustainability Helix helps us understand how business can become more sustainable.  Strategic backcasting is a methodology for planning under uncertain circumstances. BioDefinition guides decisions about creating or investing in a biodiversity business. BioSwot analyses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the linkages between the business and the biodiversity.  BioGovernance puts in place structures to preserve the biodiversity integrity of the business and to secure achievement of biodiversity performance. Product stewardship focuses on minimizing not only pollution from manufacturing but also all environmental impacts associated with the full life cycle of a product.
  • Legal framework regulating climate change:  Companies with international operations are today increasingly subject to various emissions regulations and standards in key markets. The Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol embodied the core principles of a multilateral response to climate change.  Given the increasing awareness of climate change and the role of business in bringing it about, entrepreneurs can expect the policy and regulatory environment to adapt and produce such policies as the introduction of carbon pricing schemes, providing support for research and development in zero carbon technologies and processes, imposing mandatory energy efficiency standards, and raising investment in network infrastructure such as public transport systems and smart electricity grids. A coordinated approach to policy measures will be critical in order to improve the productivity of energy and natural resource use, reduce ‘policy risk’ to create a conducive environment for private investment in clean infrastructure and encourage innovation in low/zero-carbon and environmental industries.
  • Sustainability performance measures for entrepreneurs: Climate change has suddenly exploded onto the agenda of financial disclosure statements around the globe. Companies are now talking about climate change both positively (touting their own progress on emissions reductions) and negatively (disclosing the ways in which climate change can hurt the bottom line). Entrepreneurs can now find a variety of planning, strategy and performance tools to use in launching and evaluating new sustainable ventures. Many companies are required to disclose sustainability performance measures on their progress toward sustainable development. These tools include: Life cycle assessment (LCA); Factor X; ISO 14 000; Environmental impact assessment (EIA); Material flow analysis (MFA); Triple bottom line performance measures; Carbon footprints; and Food or product miles
  • The need for a sustainable business plan: As entrepreneurs, we are collectively reaching the tipping point where we have to change our business models to respond to sustainability issues.  We can and must advance sustainable development initiatives taking into account the importance of mitigating and adapting to climate change.  We now need to plan for every final impact of their business with sections on greenhouse gases, energy use, clean power and other emissions-reducing strategies.


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[i] Note that Schumpeter’s fourth point naively refers to the exploitation and often plundering of Earth’s resources.

[ii] A geo-engineering entrepreneur undertakes deliberate intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change through such techniques as changing the Earth’s reflectivity, carbon dioxide removal, carbon sequestration, enhanced weathering, and sea fertilization to promote fish growth (see for example, Bethune 2016; Fountain 2012; Frederick, O’Connor, and Kuratko 2016, 103–107; BBC 2009; “List of Proposed Geoengineering Schemes” 2016; Lukacs 2012; Morton 2015).

[iii] The present author has adapted Cohen’s frame to suit Boulding’s framework.  What Cohen calls “economic performance” (achievement of economic objectives), we call econosphere. What they call “promise” (achievement of social objectives), we call sociosphere.  What they call “perpetuity” (achievement of environmental objectives), we call biosphere.  We have also change the centre space from sustainability to value. 

[iv] Cohen et al. hinted at the Disvalue Creation framework throughout their article, but for the purposes of the present exegesis, we make that framework explicit.  For this we draw upon the ‘dark side of entrepreneurship’ (Lockwood et al. 2006; Kets de Vries 1985; Frederick, O’Connor, and Kuratko 2016, 48–51, 128–130).

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