Biographical learning processes of sustainability innovators in the private sector

Project: Dissertation project

Project participants

  • Timm, Jana-Michaela (Project manager, academic)


The private sector has been accounted for a key force in creating a sustainable world. Especially when it comes to finding creative solutions, the business world has to be involved, given its prominent role for economic activity of society on Planet Earth (Schaltegger 2002; Robinson 2004; Abrahamson 2006; Cohen & Winn 2007). For this, innovation, creativity and the ability to promote new business ideas towards sustainability within an existing enterprise or by starting up a new company have been identified to be crucial for the transition to a more sustainable world (Gerlach 2006; Abrahamson 2007b). Vital change agents driving sustainability innovation within established organisations are refered to as “Sustainability Intrapreneurs”, while people starting a new business with the goal of contributing to sustainability are called “Sustainability Entrepre-neurs”. In order to refer to both kinds of innovators at once the term “Sustainopreneurs” has been introduced by Schaltegger in 2000 and developed further for example by Gerlach (2003) and Abrahamsson (2007a).
However, by not only focussing on understanding Sustainopreneurs’ today’s characteristics or their motivations of doing business in a different way (compared to the “mainstream”), particularly the path of how becoming a Sustainopreneur is of interest for the presented research. A basic assumption is that these people have experienced a process that “made” them to Sus-tainopreneurs; they have not becoming Sustainopreneurs “just like this”. This process includes learning processes that take place throughout their lives and finally lead to being a Sustainopre-neur. This belief in “people learn when they go along” is in accordance with the social construc-tivist perspective.
In order to investigate learning processes, educational scientists have been discussing the biographical research approach (e.g. Fuchs 2012; Koller 2012). Especially the “educational theory-oriented biographical approach”, which is based on the more broader concept of the biographical approach, emphasises that people’s own interpretation reveals their learning processes, and, thus how they see themselves and the world around them (Fuchs 2011). To get greater insight into how people have developed in terms of becoming what they are and how they act, the autobiographical-narrative method has been identified as a promising data collection technique since it assumes that people’s personal life stories may reveal their learning paths (Marotzki 1990; Koller 2002; Schulze 2002; Krüger & Marotzki 2006).
Based on these research experiences from the educational science, the presented doctoral research project has been using the educational theory-oriented biographical research approach and seeks to answer the research question: “What can personal life narratives of Sustainopreneurs reveal about their learning processes?”. In order to elaborate on this question, learning theories from the educational science constitute the research foundation while the autobiographical-narrative interview method according to Schütze (1983) and Rosenthal (2011) has been used for the data collection. The data will be analysed by applying the text and thematic field analysis method according to Rosenthal (2011).
First experiences from the research show that the chosen research approach enables doing educational scientifically grounded research that is yet sufficiently open to allow finding out more about the structure and the conditions making Sustainopreneurs’ learning processes possible.
Period01.09.10 → …

Research outputs