An integrative model for understanding the sustainable entrepreneurs’ behavioural intentions: an empirical study of the Italian context

Abstract

Intention is a mental state that powerfully predicts and explains human thought and behaviour. Therefore, to support and encourage sustainable entrepreneurship, which is directly linked to achieving sustainable development goals, it is essential to bridge the gap in our knowledge of the factors that lie behind sustainable entrepreneurial intention. Consequently, employing data from Italy, the primary aim of this study is to provide insights into the factors that affect sustainable entrepreneurs’ behavioural intentions. This study looks to extend existing research on how the subconscious goals, subjective motivations (SSMs) and personality traits of sustainable entrepreneurs influence their behavioural intentions towards sustainable business. For this purpose, a holistic map of the SSM of sustainable entrepreneurship was designed, and the mechanisms behind the relationships between personality traits and SSM and the predictive power of the personality traits on SSM were analysed. The findings revealed the importance of the joint and non-alternative use of SSM and personality traits to better understand the antecedents of sustainable entrepreneurship. Further, the findings revealed the most relevant cognitive factors and personality traits and the influential role of personality traits in some SSM factors. This study provides a theoretical and empirical contribution to the debate on intention towards sustainable entrepreneurship and offers useful reflections for policy-makers and entrepreneurship education.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Cognition is an emergent and crucial theoretical perspective (Goodwin and Wofford 1990; Sánchez 2011) that helps us to recognise and react to opportunities and problems in the environment. It is defined as “all processes by which sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used” (Neisser 1967, p. 4). Mitchel et al. (2002) consider that “entrepreneurial cognitions are the knowledge structures that people use to make assessments, judgments, or decisions involving opportunity evaluation, venture creation, and growth” (2002, p. 97). Furthermore, through cognition, people develop hypotheses about themselves and their identity, thereby influencing their choice of goals and strategies (Latham 2007).

  2. 2.

    A script is a cognitive structure that is used by entrepreneurs to act and to make decisions. It is composed of highly developed and organised knowledge structures that are employed to simplify mental models in a bid to link previously unconnected information, thereby making assessments and decisions regarding the appraisal of opportunities and creating and cultivating an enterprise (Krueger 2003; Mitchell et al. 2000; Sánchez et al. 2011).

  3. 3.

    According to Elfving (2008), the superordinate goals affect the entrepreneur’s confidence in his abilities to perform the tasks (i.e. perception of entrepreneurial feasibility in the Shapero and Sokol (1982) model, and self-efficacy in the Theory of Planned Behavior model of Ajzen (1985)). This assumption deriving from Elfving's (2008) empirical observations can be explained by the fact that the goals affect persistence since individuals continue to strive until when they have achieved the goal, and the higher the goal, the greater the persistence of the entrepreneur Elfving. The persistence through the many obstacles in doing business is driven by the self-efficacy (Shane et al. 2003).

  4. 4.

    For example, a person can say that it is right and proper that the government encourages a business to be conducted in a sustainable manner—thereby satisfying their own need to be accepted through behaviours that are in line with social norms—when, in reality, the business owner is unwilling to implement sustainable entrepreneurial behaviours if this results in a decrease in profits due to behaviours aimed at protecting the environment and supporting society.

  5. 5.

    In terms of the relationship between corporate sustainability (CS) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) (Ebner and Baumgartner 2006; van Marrewijk 2003), we believe that the two concepts are closely interrelated and interdependent (Linnanen and Panapanaan 2002). CS, viewed as the condition for the survival and development of a company, presupposes the four responsibilities of CSR (Carroll 1991), which the organisation can apply in order to balance the three dimensions of sustainability (Wempe and Kaptein 2002; Willard 2005). From this perspective, CSR is the foundation on which the three pillars of CS rest (Kaptein and Wempe 2002; Siano 2012).

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Antecedents of sustainable entrepreneurial intention Definitions
Motivation Motivation explains why people have a desire to do something and makes them put effort and to achieve it. Sustainable entrepreneurs’ motivation is primarily structured along social and environmental dimensions of sustainability
Internal-driven motivation Entrepreneur’s internal motivation (internal stimulus that induces a person to search for a way of reducing the internal state of tension) (1) refers to his mindset, (2) can better explain why some person and not others are intrinsically motivated for some activities and the differences between sustainable and traditional entrepreneurship, (3) is pervasive and act as energisers for behaviour
Personality traits Personality traits indicate the characteristic patterns of people that persist over time and across situations and refer to thoughts, feelings and behaviours
Extraversion Assertive, sociable, optimist, dynamic and directive
Emotional stability Self-confident, calm, stable and balanced
Agreeableness Trust, altruism, friendly, cheerful, accommodating and supportive
Conscientiousness Self-control, reliability, persistence, hard work, achievement-oriented
Openness to experience Creative, inquisitive, non-conforming and independent judgment
Conscious sustainability goals It arises from the desire to change the world through the creation of sustainable entrepreneurial corporate activities
Subconscious sustainability goal Subconscious goals (1) refer to all schemes, mental models and to the individual’s perceptions of reality and of the word in which he lives; (2) are affected by the subjective knowledge that is deeply embedded in personal beliefs, attitudes, values to the particular combination of needs, values; (3) are the real driving forces behind many people’s behaviours
Subconscious sustainability goal is affected by sustainable subjective knowledge
Implicit knowledge structures The knowledge structures are the key to entrepreneurial opportunity recognition and the factors used to assess, judge and decide about venture creation and growth.
Implicit (tacit) knowledge (professional and is subjective) is deeply embedded in personal beliefs, insights, attitudes, values, experiences and the capabilities inherent in the person’s mind
Subjective implicit knowledge refers to all schemes, mental models, beliefs and perceptions about reality and the world in which the individual lives as well as his vision of the future
Sustainable perceived desirability The personal level of perception of practising sustainability as interesting and attractive
Sustainable entrepreneur’s perceived self-efficacy The personal level of belief in one’s capacity to generate a significant social and environmental impact
Sustainable entrepreneur’s perceived controllability The perception of having sufficient control over the resources needed to cope successfully with the challenges
Risk-taking It is a general orientation towards taking or avoiding risks when people have to choose what to do in situations with uncertain outcomes. It refers to both risk perception (the subject level of perception of risk) and risk propensity (an attitude towards taking risks in a condition of low probability of success but with high rewards, although the latter will only be achieved after a long period)
Sustainable attitude It refers to the individual’s set of beliefs, emotions and manner of feeling and thinking about sustainability

Appendix 2

First part
Construct Variable Item Source
General Business responsibility I believe that business should take greater responsibility for solving today’s global problems Authors’ elaboration
  Balancing of the three pillars I believe that the entrepreneur should extend his/her goals to encompass ecological and social concerns through entrepreneurial behaviour that balances these three dimensions, and it is this approach that drives my business Tilley and Young (2009) and Authors’ elaboration
People Workforce welfare It is important to me that my firm contributes to the welfare of the workforce Perrini (2005) and Gerlach (2003)
  Community development It is important to me that my firm be actively involved in the community development Schaltegger and Wagner (2011) and Martínez-Ferrero and García-Sánchez (2015)
  Economic benefits to the community It is important to me that my firm give economic benefits to the larger community through our products and/or services Cohen and Winn (2007) and Gerlach (2003)
Planet Environmental harmless’ products For me, it is crucial that my firm’s products are environmentally friendly Bell and Stellingwerf (2012)
  Resource responsible policies For me, it is crucial that my firm adopt responsible materials and energy policies (i.e. reduce waste; production process that uses resource efficiently) Crowther and Aras (2008)
Profit The creation of profit and positive externalities can coexist I believe that companies can combine profit with having a positive social impact. Tilley and Young (2009)
Second part
Item Description Source
Background of respondents Authors’ elaboration
1 Age at the start of the enter  
2 Educational Qualification at the start of the enterprise  
3 Owner’s Gender  
4 The owner carries out other work  
5 Years of Establishment  
6 Work experience before starting the enterprise  
7 Religious belief  
Sustainable attitude Braun (2010)
1 Nature copes with minimal impacts of modern industrial  
2 The balance of nature is weak and easily damaged  
3 Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs  
4 Plants and animals have right  
5 Often, human interference with nature produces disastrous results  
6 If things do not change, we will soon experience a major environmental disaster  
7 Environmental crisis has been exaggerated  
8 The space and resources of the earth are limited  
9 Humans are subject to the laws of nature  
10 Humans rule over nature  
11 The earth is reaching the maximum supportable limit of people  
12 Humans are severely abusing the environment  
13 The earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to use them better  
14 Humans will learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it  
15 Human intelligence will make the earth a better place to live  
Perceived sustainability desirability Nasurdin et al. (2009), Moriano et al. (2012) and Koe et al. (2014)
1 I love to operate sustainable business  
2 I enjoy to operate sustainable business  
3 I enthusiastic to operate in a sustainable business  
4 How desirable are to face new sustainability challenges for you in your everyday life?  
5 How desirable are to create new sustainability products for you in your everyday life?  
6 How desirable are to be creative and innovative for you in your everyday life?  
7 How desirable are to obtain high incomes for you?  
Perceived sustainability self-efficacy (How much confidence do you have in your ability to) McGee et al. (2009) and Ajzen (2002)
1 Identify the need for sustainability product/service  
2 Design sustainability product/service that will satisfy customer  
3 Estimate customer demand for sustainability product or service  
4 Determine a competitive price for sustainability product/service  
5 Estimate the amount of funds and working capital necessary to my sustainable business  
6 Design an effective marketing/advertising campaign for a sustainability product/service  
7 Get others to identify with and believe in my vision and plans for sustainability business  
8 Make contact on sustainability issues  
9 Clearly and concisely explain verbally/in writing my sustainable idea  
10 Supervise employees towards sustainability  
11 Recruit and hire employees who practice sustainability  
12 Delegate sustainability tasks and responsibilities to employees in my business  
13 Deal effectively with day-to-day sustainability problems  
14 Inspire, encourage, and motivate my employees towards sustainability  
15 Train employees for sustainability  
16 Organise and maintain financial records of my business  
17 Manage the financial assets of my business  
18 Read and interpret financial statements  
Perceived sustainability perceived controllability (What do you think is your degree of access to the resources needed to exercise control over) McGee et al. (2009) and Ajzen (2002)
1 Identify the need for sustainability product/service  
2 Design sustainability product/service that will satisfy customer  
3 Estimate customer demand for sustainability product or service  
4 Determine a competitive price for sustainability product/service  
5 Estimate the amount of funds and working capital necessary to my sustainable business  
6 Design an effective marketing/advertising campaign for a sustainability product/service  
7 Get others to identify with and believe in my vision and plans for sustainability business  
8 Make contact with sustainability issues  
9 Clearly and concisely explain verbally/in writing my sustainable idea  
10 Supervise employees towards sustainability  
11 Recruit and hire employees who practice sustainability  
12 Delegate sustainability tasks and responsibilities to employees in my business  
13 Deal effectively with day-to-day sustainability problems  
14 Inspire, encourage, and motivate my employees towards sustainability  
15 Train employees for sustainability  
16 Organise and maintain financial records of my business  
17 Manage the financial assets of my business  
18 Read and interpret financial statements  
Risk-taking a
Risk perception (How do you think is low the risk related to the following sentences for your decision to engage in your activity?)
Nicholson et al. (2002); Rohrmann (2005); Zhao et al. (2005) and Abad et al. (2011)
1 I follow the motto, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” (Financial)  
2 Proving myself to other (Non-financial)
Risk propensity (In general, what is your propensity for accepting risk to obtain what is indicated in the following sentences?)
 
3 I’m propensed for accepting financial risks to earn additional income (Livelihood)  
4 I’m propensed for accepting riskier strategies that have less probability of success if I can reap more benefit, even if after a considerable amount of time (Livelihood)  
5 I enjoy the excitement of uncertainty and risk (Lifestyle)  
6 I want to keep up with my peers (Lifestyle)  
7 Others urged me to take part in the activity (Lifestyle)  
8 Don’t want to be seen as ‘cowardly’ (Lifestyle)  
9 To seek new work experiences gives me satisfaction because I gain in myself-confidence (Livelihood)  
10 To seek new work experiences gives me satisfaction because it is a personal challenge (opportunity to test my own limits) (Livelihood)  
11 I am willing to take a significant risk if the possible rewards are high enough (Physical status)  
12 I enjoy to attract attention (Physical status)  
Mini-IPIP test Donnellan et al. (2006)
1 Am the life of the party  
2 Sympathise with others’ feelings  
3 Get chores done right away  
4 Have frequent mood swings  
5 I Have a vivid imagination  
6 Don’t talk a lot  
7 Am not interested in other people’s problems (R)  
8 Often forget to put things back in their proper place (R)  
9 Am relaxed most of the time (R)  
10 I Am not interested in abstract ideas (R)  
11 Talk to a lot of different people at parties  
12 A Feel others’ emotions  
13 Like order  
14 Get upset easily  
15 I Have difficulty understanding abstract ideas (R)  
16 Keep in the background (R)  
17 Am not really interested in others (R)  
18 Make a mess of things (R)  
19 Seldom feel blue (R)  
20 I Do not have a good imagination (R)  
  1. aFor a better understanding, we indicate in italics the type of examined resource

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Arru, B. An integrative model for understanding the sustainable entrepreneurs’ behavioural intentions: an empirical study of the Italian context. Environ Dev Sustain 22, 3519–3576 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00356-x

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Keywords

  • Cognitive motivations
  • Subconscious and subjective motivations
  • Sustainable entrepreneurship
  • Personality traits
  • Sustainable entrepreneurial intentions
  • Italy