People, Planet, Profit

Training Sustainable Entrepreneurs at the University Level
  • Dolors Gil-DoménechEmail author
  • Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent
Living reference work entry


The dynamic and highly volatile environment that characterizes today’s society demands professionals who are capable of engaging in the process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning. It is no longer enough to create and place new products and services in the marketplace; it is also necessary to recognize and relentlessly pursue new opportunities that create and sustain social value. Within this context, sustainable entrepreneurs are upon called to play a major role by identifying unique opportunities that help society resurge from the economic downturn and promote a prolific, inclusive, and economically sustainable development. A correct alignment among environmental, social, and economic issues is therefore paramount. Increasingly these values are permeating many domains of society, including the academic sphere. As a result, universities are now looking for how best to instill these values in their students by generating sustainability awareness and boosting the development of sustainable skills. This chapter reflects on the key role that sustainability plays in entrepreneurial education and reviews different ways for fostering these skills. For illustrative purposes, the chapter includes a case study which presents an example on how to train nonbusiness-related master’s students to become sustainable entrepreneurs.


Sustainable skills Entrepreneurship Sustainable entrepreneurship Higher education Teaching sustainability 


Nowadays, society demands professionals who are capable of continuously innovating, adapting, and learning. The increasingly globalized and industrialized business environment requires flexible business models that allow companies to readapt and update on a regular basis. As a result, professionals cannot limit their contribution to the design and launching of new products or services but have to do so in a sustainable way.

Within this framework, the role of sustainable entrepreneurs is paramount. By designing and developing new products and projects in which environmental and societal objectives are fully incorporated into feasible and profitable business models , entrepreneurs can promote and pursue sustainability. By aligning social (people ), environmental (planet ), and economic (profit ) aspects, sustainable entrepreneurs can improve, promote, and pursue more balanced initiatives that bring value to the whole society.

Universities play a key role in this process. They are key actors in transmitting the importance of sustainability and educating entrepreneurs-to-be in such values. Higher education institutions are thus expected to instill sustainable principles and attitudes in their students, while promoting research projects in the field of sustainable business development.

This book chapter elaborates on the benefits of teaching students the fundamentals of both entrepreneurship and sustainability in a combined formula. To do this, we first review the role that sustainability plays in higher education and question whether current existing programs place enough importance on generating sustainability awareness among students. Next, the chapter focuses on active learning methods that have been proved to help students develop sustainable skills. The section that follows reviews the specific literature on sustainable entrepreneurship. Several examples from around the world are used to illustrate how universities are adapting their traditional entrepreneurship programs by adding a social component. Finally, the case of the Service Management course is presented as an example of a subject that trains nonbusiness-related master’s students to become sustainable entrepreneurs. The chapter ends with some reflection questions and practical exercises.

Sustainability in Higher Education

Why Is It Important to Teach Sustainability at Universities?

In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) signaled universities as one of the key drivers to promote sustainability. As a result, higher education institutions are expected to be “places of research and learning for sustainable development” and act as leaders “by practicing what they teach through sustainable purchasing, investments and facilities that are integrated with teaching and learning” (UNESCO 2004, p. 22). In the manifest, UNESCO highlighted the need for the development of soft (transversal) skills linked to sustainability, such as problem-solving skills or critical thinking . Some years later, in 2009, UNESCO re-emphasized the central role of universities in pursuing sustainability, encouraging them as part of their mission to promote interdisciplinary and cooperative education and research programs related to sustainable development (UNESCO 2009).

By its nature, sustainability cannot be limited to a skill fostered in the classroom; instead, it needs to be conceived and practiced inside and outside it. Thereby, sustainability education has meant a fundamental change in the traditional operating of universities. They are now required to rethink and adapt not only the curricula and pedagogies used but also their policies and institutional structures (Corcoran 2010).

As mentioned before, sustainability is a transversal skill that can and should be promoted by universities. At the same time, it encompasses the acquisition of many other skills such as critical thinking, problem- and project-solving, personal responsibility, and the capacity of having a broader view of a given problem. When education is conceived in its holistic view (soft + hard skills ), it provides students a lifelong form of learning, that is, an invaluable asset that they acquire through practice and formative assessment and that they will be able to apply in all kind of disciplines throughout their entire lives (Kember 2009; Star and Hammer 2008).

In order to test how much students know about sustainability, a survey was designed and administered to students enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program in Business at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain). Responses were collected during May 2017. Responses from 112 students were collected, 65 (58%) of them male, with an average age of 19.6 years old. The survey combined different types of questions, including items in the form of statements to which respondents had to indicate their level of agreement/disagreement on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from (1) completely disagree to (5) completely agree, short questions to which respondents should indicate agreement or disagreement (yes/no), and lastly a set of open questions that invited students to self-reflect about their sustainability-oriented habits.

After analyzing the results, one of the key findings is that almost 60% of the students interviewed said that the level of learning on sustainability was limited (see Fig. 1). Only a small percentage of students (1.79%) indicated that they had received excessive training on this topic.
Fig. 1

Level of learning on sustainability, based on students responses

The survey also included questions where respondents should answer with yes/no/sometimes. Figure 2 shows students’ responses with respect to a set of habits related to different practical aspects of sustainability. As is shown in Fig. 2, the first four questions refer to students’ sustainability behaviors, while the last four ask about specific knowledge on different aspects concerning sustainability. Based on the responses, it can be observed that the majority of students converge in saying that their consumption decisions are highly tied to the physical appearance of the products to be purchased. As for recycling habits, students tend to separate the rubbish; however, they do not consume products with reduced ecologic impact. As for the second group of questions, a significant proportion of students believe that how the product looks has an effect on its quality. This thought is consistent with their consumption decisions. Moreover, a great proportion of students indicate that some habits of consumption (such as eating meat) have a direct effect on pollution, and many of them are familiar with the concept of ecological footprint. Finally, it is remarkable that, in general, students consider being more sustainable and more expensive. This way of thinking might have a negative and direct effect on their sustainability-related decisions.
Fig. 2

Students’ opinions and habits related to sustainability

The surveys also gathered information on critical issues related to sustainable practices. In this respect, students were asked to indicate on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 5 (the highest) how important were a set of topics. Responses are reported in Fig. 3. According to the results, hot topics on sustainability (with a score equal to 4 or superior) include food waste, followed by the water consumed in households. In contrast, the topic that scored the lower mark is the quantity of water used to produce food.
Fig. 3

Level of concern about different sustainability topics

Finally, with open questions students were given the opportunity to indicate their sustainability-oriented habits . Their responses were later classified into six different categories: water consumption, energy consumption, recycling, means of transportation, food consumption, re-use of goods, and care of the environment. Results are presented in Figs. 4 and 5. While the former shows the habits already adopted by students, the latter shows the ones students said they still have to acquire.
Fig. 4

Sustainable habits adopted by students

Fig. 5

Sustainable habits students want to adopt

According to Fig. 4, students’ most common routines are those aimed at reducing water and energy consumption. Some examples are turning off the water while brushing their teeth, taking shorter showers, and turning off the lights when they are not strictly necessary. Two of these practices – recycling and sustainable water consumption – are, at the same time, the ones students would like to acquire, followed by reducing food waste, mainly by making rational food purchases and buying local products. On the other hand, few students consider re-utilizing goods, or taking care of the environment by avoiding the use of sprays or plastic bags. The sustainable habit of re-using goods is also the one with the lowest likelihood of being acquired in the short term.

Taken altogether, these results indicate that sustainability is a concept present in students’ daily lives, meaning that students are aware of sustainability practices and acknowledge the importance of being sustainably responsible. Notwithstanding, it is worth recalling that a significant proportion of students consider that their sustainability education was limited. This result reinforces the need for integrating sustainability in higher education.

Methods for Teaching Sustainability

Most of the methods that can be used to teach sustainability are based on active learning, which has been demonstrated to facilitate the acquisition of skills (Prince 2004). Active learning consists of placing students at the center of their learning process while they participate in activities and reflect on what they are doing and how (Bonwell and Eison 1991). This way, students become more independent and responsible, and improve their performance not only while doing the activity but also after completing it (Bell and Kozlowski 2008).

Active learning methods imply changing the traditional role of lecturers: instead of acting as “expert authorities” they act as facilitators or guides of the educational process (Phillips 2004). When applied correctly, these teaching methods motivate learners while simultaneously providing them with a deeper knowledge and positive attitudes (Michael 2006).

Given that sustainability is a soft skill that should be promoted in the educational process, active learning methods are suitable for this purpose. In fact, the majority of methods used for teaching sustainability are based on active learning. The following pages summarize some of the most commonly used active learning methods that have been found to be sound in boosting sustainable skills among students.

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning is a “collaborative and participatory student centered approach to teaching and learning, based on work and problem exploration” (Bessant et al. 2013, p. 2). When learning through problems, students are collectively involved in a shared process of acquiring new knowledge and skills. This teaching method requires an inductive and contextual approach to the hypotheses raised in a complex and structured problem with prompts from lecturers. When solving the problem, students construct knowledge by building and testing a greater understanding of the learning outcomes pursued (Wiek et al. 2014).

Problem-based learning in the context of sustainability education has been used as a method for exploring authentic problems related to sustainability. Students develop a deeper understanding of the nature of the problem proposed and acquire transferrable sustainability competences (Bessant et al. 2013). By enhancing skills for sustainable development using real-life problems within this framework, higher education institutions are able to become student-centered learning environments that encourage sustainability (Cörvers et al. 2016).

Project-Based Learning

According to Friedman (2000), project-based learning is one of the most common and relevant active learning methods. It can be defined as a “comprehensive perspective designed to engage students in investigation to solve real problems by using multiple cognitive instruments and various sources of information, while working in a social context” (Berbegal-Mirabent et al. 2017). The main aim is to make students responsible for their own learning while they apply competences and knowledge to real projects. In this context, the facilitator offers students the organized structure of contents and requirements of the project to solve. They do so by guiding students to the acquisition of the necessary skills and accompanying them through the autonomous educational process (Doppelt 2003).

Given that project-based learning encourages students to find solutions for projects in a real situation, it can serve as a link between classroom experiences and real-life events (Blumenfeld et al. 1991). For a proper sequencing of the project, students have to organize themselves from the start, gather and manage information, communicate and discuss their ideas and findings, follow the instructions and accomplish the assigned tasks, and collaborate with others (Laffey et al. 1998). This way, project-based learning establishes a model of authentic instruction in which students plan, implement, and evaluate projects with applications beyond the classroom walls, that is, in the real world. While developing the project students also become more responsible for their learning and increase their sense of pride (Barron et al. 1998; Kubiatko and Vaculová 2011).

Problem-based learning is particularly suitable for teaching sustainability. This method can be used by lecturers who want to integrate real situations in the classroom. Under this approach, students typically work in groups and have to collaborate with each other in order to create a project or plan an event.

Living Labs

Living or campus labs consist of using the university infrastructures as an experimental laboratory where different stakeholders are able to develop and test new technologies (Evans et al. 2015). Living labs combine the use of both academic and campus facilities to supply students with transversal skills.

Living labs are becoming increasingly popular to promote sustainability in the higher education context (Evans et al. 2015). In fact, universities’ campuses offer real locations which are ideal for performing practical research. Some examples of the application of such strategies can be found in the use of solar panels or wind turbines at universities. Thus, while allowing institutions to reduce their carbon footprint, these green practices also provide students with real-world, hands-on learning experiences (Cohen and Lovell 2011). This way, campus labs arise as an initiative that enables institutions to meet their sustainability objectives and, at the same time, encourage students to adopt the attitudes and skills to think critically about different and relevant challenges related to sustainability.

Echoing Evans et al. (2015, p. 3), living labs “provide a framework for students and academics to engage with the opportunities to work with Estates staff and their environmental consultants on applied sustainability challenges.” However, it is important to note that proper implementation of such labs requires close collaboration among students, academics, and technical staff. It also encompasses a redesign of the role of universities as promoters of experimental courses for the generation of new ideas towards sustainability (Vezzoli and Penin 2006). Universities should thus take into account all these considerations – boosting cooperation and offering their facilities – when designing and implementing campus labs.

Transdisciplinary Activities

Transdisciplinary teaching involves academics, students, and practitioners who collaborate to solve real-world problems together. In doing so, participants obtain a superior benefit from the one they could have obtained if working independently (Scholz et al. 2006).

Following Lang et al. (2012, p. 27) and Vilsmaier and Lang (2015), transdisciplinarity can be understood as a type of research that encompasses the following characteristics: (i) it focuses on important real-world problems, (ii) it empowers mutual learning among people participating from inside and outside academia, and (iii) it aims at generating new knowledge: “solution-oriented, socially robust, and transferable to both the scientific and societal practice.”

Sustainability is a multidimensional, transdisciplinary concept, as a result of the three pillars on which it is based: environment, society, and economy. These three pillars, informally referred to as the “triple P” (3P), stand for people, planet, and profit (Epstein and Buhovac 2014). For this reason, in order to teach sustainability, it is highly recommended to use transdisciplinary techniques, which integrate different perspectives of a specific problem. Additionally, applying transdisciplinary teaching in sustainability programs through an active imparting of practice-based knowledge has been shown to have a positive impact on learners’ motivations (Merck and Beermann 2015). When the teaching is addressed in this sense, students are able to create, integrate, and manage sustainability knowledge in their day-to-day decisions (Scholz et al. 2006).

When designing transdisciplinary activities with sustainability teaching purposes, it is thus essential to create a multidisciplinary team, bringing specialists from diverse disciplines. This diversity in backgrounds can contribute to the creation of activities that integrate all of the fundamental principles of sustainability.

Sustainable Enterpreneurship

Companies are usually perceived as responsible for causing the majority of ecological and social problems. However, depending on the way they carry out their production, while it is true that they can work against sustainability, it is also true that they can do just the opposite. By designing and developing new projects in which environmental and societal objectives are fully incorporated into feasible and lucrative business models, businesses can promote and pursue sustainability (Lans et al. 2014). Actually, entrepreneurship is increasingly being considered as an essential channel for carrying out a transformation toward sustainable processes and products (Hall et al. 2010).

Actors integrating environmental, economic, and social development in their core businesses are called “sustainable entrepreneurs ” (Schaltegger and Wagner 2011). Sustainable entrepreneurs are thus said to combine the “best of both worlds”: by promoting new and profitable processes and products (entrepreneurship), they foster social and ecological progress (sustainability) (Lans et al. 2014). Thereby, they “generate new products, services, techniques and organizational modes that substantially reduce environmental impacts and increase the quality of life” (Schaltegger and Wagner 2011, p. 223). Following this rationale, Kuckertz and Wagner (2010) assert that “sustainable entrepreneurs manage to thetriple bottom lineby balancing economic health, social equity and environmental resilience through their entrepreneurial behavior” (p. 524).

The relevance of sustainable entrepreneurship has been highlighted by several authors in recent years (Hall et al. 2010; Kuckertz and Wagner 2010; Lans et al. 2014; Lourenço et al. 2012; Schaltegger and Wagner 2011). Given this remarkable importance, the role that universities play in teaching the necessary skills for developing sustainable entrepreneurship is paramount. By doing so, universities promote the acquisition of abilities that in the future will help students make business decisions that result in a socially, economically, and environmentally better world. As Lourenço et al. (2012) argue, “entrepreneurship education for sustainable development is a pluralistic approach that can bridge the two paradigms: doing well (instrumental stakeholder perspective) while doing good (normative stakeholder perspective)” (Lourenço et al. 2012, p. 858). The two paradigms to which the authors refer are the instrumental perspective, which maintains that both social and environmental viewpoints should be integrated in the business strategies of all companies in order to generate mutual benefits, and the normative perspective, which affirms that companies do not have the right to affect social well-being negatively through externalities (Donaldson and Preston 1995; Jones 1995; Lourenço et al. 2012).

In the framework of sustainable entrepreneurship education, there has been a bulk of recent studies determining the necessary skills that higher education should foster for this purpose. In a similar vein, some other works report experiences on different practices for teaching sustainable entrepreneurship at the university level. Along these lines, Schaltegger and Wagner (2011), pioneers in coining the term “sustainable entrepreneurship ,” analyzed the links between sustainability entrepreneurship and innovation and specified the conditions necessary to companies in order to move towards sustainability. In their study, these authors recommended that firms be ready to adapt rapidly to market changes and also to establish partnerships with different stakeholders in order to pursue a sustainable innovation. Similarly, Lans et al. (2014) focused on the figure of the entrepreneur, specifying the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are indispensable for integrating entrepreneurship and sustainability. Basing their study on focus group discussions with professors and structured questionnaires addressed to higher education students, these authors concluded that enhancing systems thinking and normative and interpersonal competences, as well as integrating diversity and interdisciplinarity and promoting foresighted thinking, are key aspects for imparting a satisfactory sustainable entrepreneurship education.

With respect to teaching practices, Bonnet et al. (2006) proposed an activity that combined entrepreneurship, sustainability, and project education in an undergraduate engineering course titled Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Technology at Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands). Specifically, they examined how to integrate the triple P (People + Planet + Profit ) in a business plan which students had to develop. Their results suggest that the activity contributed, on the one hand, to fostering skills such as entrepreneurship, presentation, problem-based learning, teamwork, and cooperation skills, and, on the other hand, it helped students to be aware of their capability for being entrepreneurs and doing so in a sustainability context. Lourenço et al. (2012) also focused their attention on this area by analyzing the extent to which sustainability education enlightens the principles of emerging entrepreneurs. As a contribution of their study, these authors identified internal factors with potential to operate as barriers (profit-first mentality) or drivers (perception of benefit, learning, ease of use) which influence nascent entrepreneurs to exploit their learning associated with sustainable entrepreneurship.

Case Study

Academic Programs on Sustainable Entrepreneurship

The scarcity of natural resources, the exponential human population growth, and the current inequalities demand people able to apply business principles to solving social, environmental, and economic problems. Sustainable or eco- entrepreneurs are those entrepreneurs who aim at tackling these issues. They do so by proactively introducing environmentally and socially friendly innovations to a large group of stakeholders (Dean and McMullen 2007).

Such a profile is in great demand. However, there is a lack of studies examining how these two disciplines – entrepreneurship and sustainability – can reinforce each other. Traditionally, scholars have focused either on entrepreneurship education or on education for sustainability. Notwithstanding, we argue that higher education institutions should adopt a more holistic role, laying the foundation for sustainable entrepreneurs .

Although the number of programs exploring the borderland between these two disciplines is significantly low, it is possible to identify some academic programs in which students enrolled will be able to explore areas of opportunity in green businesses. In March 2011, the electronic magazine Entrepreneur published a list of some of the top business schools for eco-entrepreneurs (Daley 2011). It was headed by Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, one of the leading centers in the field of entrepreneurship that has now enlarged its academic portfolio, offering courses and certificate programs that bring together the fields of innovation, engineering, and sustainability. This idea was not new. In 2008, the McGill University Desautels Faculty of Management launched a new curriculum, integrating social, environmental, and ethical issues into business education.

Universities from all over the world have followed these steps and, as of today, it is possible to find different programs that prepare individuals to create profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change. To reach this goal, students can participate in research projects and help local companies to develop sustainability plans. The Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, New York University, the University of Vermont, the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies at University of Leeds, the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley University, and the International Business School at Brandeis University exemplify the emergence of graduate schools that are increasingly adapting their traditional MBA programs in order to teach the next generation of leaders who are expected to think, reinvent, disrupt, and build sustainable enterprises.

Other initiatives include Doing Good Doing Well (DGDW), the largest student-run conference in Europe that takes place each year at IESE Business School; the annual Duke Conference on Sustainable Business and Social Impact, held at the Fuqua School of Business (Duke University), which attracts 350 participants each year; and the 11-day program “Doing Business in a Culture of Sustainability” in Costa Rica, promoted by the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. It is worth mentioning that in 2009, a team of students from this university won the Net Impact Case Competition (NICC), the premier MBA case competition focused on solving real-world social and environmental business challenges.

Going a step further, some universities have created support infrastructures such as business incubators to accelerate socially responsible businesses. Examples include the Social Innovation Incubator located in the Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability at Portland State University and the Kenan-Flagler’s Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This latter university hosts a Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition, in which students present sustainable business plans in an attempt to win seed money.

From the examples underlined above, it can be inferred that entrepreneurship and sustainability cannot be set off to one side, but rather need to be fully integrated in the curriculum. Businesses are constantly changing the way they think about their operations, business models, and delivery of products and services. What is more, they are expected to do so while ensuring that they respect the environment, contribute to social welfare, and obtain financial benefits.

Individuals can address social and environmental problems by means of creating and developing new businesses and innovations. In this respect, educational programs play an important role, as they should infuse students with the right skills and confidence to develop and launch their own ideas and plans for new and sustainable ventures.

Service Management

This section describes the experience of a course on Service Management taught at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC Barcelona Tech) in Spain. This course is part of the master’s program in Innovation and Research in Informatics, and its main aim is to provide students a complete and comprehensive picture of the management of service industries, offering them an integrated view. As economies all over the world are increasingly becoming more service-oriented, there is a need to go further in the study of all aspects related to the management of service industries.

One of the main outcomes of the course is the final project. To achieve this goal, the course adopts an entrepreneurial approach. In groups of four, students are assigned a project-based activity . Specifically, they are required to design a new service business . Throughout the course, students gain theoretical and practical insights on how to manage this particular type of firm and the specific features they need to consider.

Compared to other entrepreneurship courses, the value added of this course is that students should come up with an idea that, besides having the potential for being profitable, will be respectful of the environment and/or contribute to reducing social inequalities. As there are few courses exploring and/or crossing the boundaries between these two disciplines (entrepreneurship and sustainability), the ultimate goal of this course is threefold: (i) to foster sustainable entrepreneurship, (ii) to influence students’ behavior by dealing with the challenge of sustainability, and (iii) to prepare students to thrive in and contribute to sustainable development.

The theoretical foundations are imparted in the form of explanatory classes. These lectures are complemented by reading specific articles, class exercises, and seminars. Students are expected to actively participate. In order to make sure that students possess both the required knowledge and skills for conducting the final project (business plan), two prior assignments are included in the course program. The first one is called “Innovation Awareness & Opportunity Recognition.” For this activity, students have to subscribe to a blog, newsletter, or similar source from which to obtain information about new start-ups. Among the new businesses, they have to select two start-ups operating in the service sector that are at an early stage of development. One of them should address a social need. For each idea, they have to prepare a 10-min presentation covering these following points: the business idea and need being addressed, the developer, and the target audience. Presentations should end with a critical assessment. During the first month of the course, students present their work at the end of each session. The underlying rationale behind this activity is to train students to adopt a critical perspective when evaluating business ideas.

Once this step is reached, students can move on and assess how business models evolve over time. In this respect, they are asked to compare the initial business model of a start-up (also operating in the service sector) with the current one. To do this they should make use of the business model canvas . What students learn from this activity is that firms, if they want to survive, need to innovate in response to changing customer demands and lifestyles.

As for the final project, the lean start-up method is used. This method is particularly convenient as it favors experimentation and iterative design (Blank 2013). Students learn how to develop and test ideas rapidly. Specifically, hypotheses are summarized in a business model canvas. By getting “out of the building,” students test their hypotheses with prospective customers and validate/reject their assumptions (Trimi and Berbegal-Mirabent 2012). This circle is performed in an iterative basis until no more adjustments are necessary.

The following pages deal with some of the business ideas students came up with during the first semester of academic year 2016–2017. For this year, the focus was on companies operating in the educational sector.


The debate between textbooks vs. computers has been going on for a long time. Increasingly, technology is invading the classrooms, providing alternative learning tools for students. Despite many generations of students’ having used textbooks to learn, textbooks present some pitfalls that e-books can overcome. First, printed books can sometimes have outdated information if the latest edition is not available. Second, additional material might be useful to complement what is written. Third, some textbooks cannot be reutilized (e.g., by younger brothers or sisters) because blank spaces for responses have already been filled in. Fourth, approximately 30 million trees per year are used to make books sold in the United States. A large proportion of these trees are sourced from endangered forests with devastating impacts on the people and wildlife that rely on them. Therefore, e-books’ environmental impact is lower.

In this context Mediafy emerges as a disruptive start-up in the publishing sector. Nowadays digital products and services are more important than they have ever been before. Everybody is using different kinds of devices to go online and consume digital content. Traditional media is being replaced by new and innovative solutions. The idea of Mediafy is, instead of replacing school books with their e-versions, to enrich the material with digital content and make it more interactive, entertaining, and appealing to the younger generations. Current online solutions are focused on specific functions such as visualization. However, there is no real media provider for physical books. Mediafy will provide a Content Management System (CMS) that will enable publishing houses to publish digital content online in a secure environment. As the application will be tailored to the publishing houses’ needs, the publishing process will be fast and easy to fulfill.

School Pooling

School Pooling is a carpool sharing application service that provides different routes to transport children to school. The underlying objective is to diminish the number of commutes using private transportation and consequently diminish pollution and energy consumption .

With this system, parents who usually drive their children to school will be able to “sell” their spare seats by picking up other students. They will get paid for the service. For security reasons, an individual platform will be created for each school. Using an app, driving parents will be able to publish the route they follow. Other parents from the same school who are searching for a driver to pick-up their child(ren) can browse among the available routes and request a pick-up. Within the following 24 h they will be notified if accepted or not. If so, a chat for all the parents with children in the same route will be created in order to arrange the place to meet the following day. Once students arrive safely at the school, a notification will be shared among the nondriving parents. In case of an emergency, which means that the driver is not able to drive, a private driver or taxi driver will be called by the company and s/he will be in charge of bringing children to the school.

The service differentiates from that of competitors in several ways. First, compared to public transportation, School Pooling is safer. Depending on the town, young students might feel insecure taking public transportation on their own. Also commutes from home to a metro/bus/tram station might be long. This system allows pick-ups from homes. Second, one of the main advantages of School Pooling over private school buses will be the price. School Pooling will cost less than half the price of a private bus. Parents acting as drivers will receive free credit for future services. The payment will be processed through the app. As the application will be extremely user-friendly, the service will be easy to use.


Students attending private academies want to review the content of the lectures before exams and whenever they miss a class. On the other hand, the owners of academies want a service that allows them to be more competitive by providing recorded lectures to their students, hence improving their performance. Nevertheless, they do not want to invest high amounts to make this improvement or to increase the workload of their teachers.

Revid is a service that provides private academies with all they need to record their lectures and make them available to their students. Revid will take care of the setup (choosing and installing the cameras and microphones), the training (how to use the platform), and the maintenance. The service will be contracted via either the website, phone calls, or on-site visits. A team of technical staff will be in charge of installing the cameras and the required material. Likewise, in case of a technical problem, a technician will go to the academy and fix it. For doubts and queries, a call center will be available 24/7. The online platform will provide useful tips for making the most of the equipment installed.

Following the spirit of work integration social enterprises, Revid aims at improving the employment prospects of people farthest from the labor market. Reasons for potential exclusion might be multiple (e.g., low education attainment, discrimination related to ethnicity, gender, homelessness, migration or asylum seekers, illness or disability, and unemployment). Specifically, Revid will work closely with foundations and associations in order to train people at risk of exclusion on how to install the technical equipment at academies and provide maintenance services. The ultimate goal is to integrate or reintegrate these individuals into the workplace permanently.


Tutoria is a web platform that brings together tutors and students with the right tools to enable a digital environment that simulates a real-time tutoring session. The tutor provides input to the process in the form of information, guidance, and tutoring. The student provides input to the process in the form of feedback and questions. The output of the process is an increase of knowledge in the specified course of the student.

Tutoria’s service differs from that of its competitors in three main aspects. First, tutors’ qualifications would be verified and publically available for registered users; this way, prospective students would be able to select which tutor they prefer based on the ratings and recommendations from other users. Second, all tutors working in Tutoria will be using a graphical tablet that will act as a digital notebook or whiteboard for the student. Lastly, inspired by the social enterprise, Tutoria combines the business aspect (providing students the necessary skills to pass their exams), with a social mission . It does so by offering people from developing countries the opportunity to earn additional income by acting as tutors.


Education is a decisive factor of change. Students – tomorrow’s leaders – need to take an active role in creating a better, sustainable, and safe future. Educational institutions play a paramount role in this process. This topic is not new. The term “education for sustainable development” was coined in the mid-1990s and emerged as a need for changing the traditional focus of “environmental education” (Keeble 1988). The main implications of this approach entailed broadening its scope. That is, education for sustainable development is a lifetime process that should create the conditions for the development of environmental consciousness and formation of ecological culture. Citizens need to better respond to socioeconomic – rather than only environmental – challenges at the local, regional, and global level (Filho 2015). Said differently, as today’s resources need to be used with care, so that they are available to future generations, education for sustainable development should foster awareness about the issues pertaining to sustainable development in all its different dimensions – social, political, economic, and ecological.

Since the 1990s, educational initiatives oriented towards generating sustainability awareness have significantly increased, and education for sustainable development is now a relevant part of the curriculum in different educational settings. Higher education institutions are not an exception to this reality. Universities are the perfect place where to teach students how to identify and implement solutions to environmental challenges. This ability is highly tied to the development of entrepreneurial mindsets. Indeed, entrepreneurship has been found to help economies spring up and create new jobs. Moreover, if entrepreneurial activities are oriented towards the offering of creative solutions to complex and persistent social problems, they would not only report benefits to the entrepreneurs but they will also boost social wealth creation (Zahra et al. 2009).

This book chapter has reflected on the benefits of teaching students at universities the fundamentals of sustainable entrepreneurship. To do so, we have first highlighted the need for promoting sustainability values among entrepreneurs and the central role that universities play in this context.

In order to illustrate students’ perceptions of sustainable practices and their current knowledge on some key topics dealing with sustainability issues, the results of a survey – specifically designed for this purpose – are presented. Overall, it can be concluded that, although students are aware of sustainability practices and acknowledge their importance, most of them consider the education for sustainable development they received to be limited. This result is consistent with the existing literature and the different calls for an urgent need to better integrate sustainability in the context of higher education.

Sustainable entrepreneurs promote new and profitable processes and products while fostering social and ecological progress. Thus, given the importance of boosting sustainable entrepreneurial attitudes among students, we have next reviewed different active learning methods that have been found to help in this process. Specifically, we have focused on problem- and project-based learning, living labs, and transdisciplinary activities.

Sustainability and entrepreneurship can complement each other, and certainly, higher education institutions are expected to take a leading role in hastening these abilities among students. A number of initiatives worldwide have been presented, thus evidencing how higher education institutions have enlarged their academic offerings and created academic programs addressing the 3Ps – people, planet, and profit. These programs assist students in developing the appropriate skills that are necessary to explore new opportunities in green businesses, participate in research projects, and help local companies to develop sustainability plans. Because universities should not lose sight of their responsibility and only adopt a passive role – e.g., enlarging the academic offer – but an active one, we have also reviewed examples of universities that have gone a step further and implemented educational sustainable development using different shapes and formats. Some examples include the establishment of institutional guidelines on how to foster sustainable development within the institution, the creation of a broaden support for sustainability initiatives, the adoption of innovative practices to make universities’ footprint more sustainable, or the establishment of local and regional partnerships so as to yield results in the communities surrounding universities.

The chapter ends with an example – course on Service Management – of how to train nonbusiness-related students to become sustainable entrepreneurs. We believe this example to be worth as the original purpose of the course is to teach neither entrepreneurship nor sustainability but how to manage service firms. Thus, this example shows that the fundamentals of a course can be complemented with other relevant skills students need to develop – in this case, entrepreneurship and sustainability – before graduating. Using a project-based approach, students learn how to run a business operating in the service sector, while developing the ability of identifying social needs and creating a solution. This approach is much more enriching, and it does not require reducing content on service management. However, we acknowledge that such an approach is much more demanding for the instructor, as s/he needs to think outside of the box in order to come up with class activities that combine different topics, all of them, of interest for the student. Likewise, such a holistic approach presupposes important challenges and changes in conceptualizing the role of university lecturers, their educational profiles, and the preparation of the teaching material (Llorens et al. 2017). Universities – and by extension, professors – are responsible for educating students not only in terms of specific knowledge but also in terms of skills. As such, although much more demanding, we have in our hands the choice of helping students making business decisions that result in a socially, economically, and environmentally better world.

Although in this chapter we have seen that entrepreneurship and sustainability have been found to reinforce each other, literature examining this connection is scarce. We therefore encourage researchers to conduct further studies in this direction. The authors hope this chapter inspires universities to think beyond the approach of merely teaching students, but to embark on activities that seek to create impact and induce large-scale positive change within society or for the environment (Bradach 2010).

Reflection Questions

  • Use the SWOT matrix (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to analyze the case of Medifay. Do you think this business to be salable?

  • Which are the main competitors of School Pooling? Would you be willing to use this service?

  • In the case of Revid, which specific profile of people at risk of exclusion would you consider easier to reincorporate into the job market?

  • Search for similar services to the one provided by Tutoria. What actions and strategies would you suggest in order to make this company more sustainable?

Exercises in Practice

In this section are some examples of activities designed for teaching sustainable entrepreneurship. As typical entrepreneurship courses are designed around the generation of a business idea (Berbegal-Mirabent et al. 2016), the activities listed below converge in the writing of a business plan. The statements for these activities as well as the acquisition of skills pursued are as follows.

Exercise 1: The 3P Mission

List five companies with a sustainable mission. When doing so, consider their main objectives and values, and check if the members of the companies are involved with this mission.

Skills to develop: search for information, critical thinking.

Hint: This TED Talks video can be helpful to understand why companies can solve social problems:

Exercise 2: 3P Products and Processes

List five enterprises with high sustainability principles related to their products and management. Also specify, if possible, which of them are known for generating opportunities for new sustainable business.

Skills to develop: search for information, critical thinking.

Exercise 3: Analyzing the Market: Sustainable Companies’ Hunters

Working in teams of three, perform an analysis of a market formed by social start-ups. Consider also the elements that can let this start-up be profitable and indicate the stakeholders that can help these firms to achieve their goals.

Skills to develop: search for information, teamwork, critical thinking.

Hint: This TED Talks video can be helpful to understand the role of entrepreneurs for fostering sustainability:

Exercise 4: 3P Product Designers

Design a sustainable product and a marketing strategy associated with it. You will have to present your ideas in front of the class. Your classmates will give you feedback, taking into account the triple P (effects on society, environment, and profits) and the originality and feasibility of your project.

Skills to develop: critical thinking, communication and presentation, project-development, peer-assessment.

Exercise 5: InnoGame

List as many innovative production practices as possible in 15 min. For each correct answer, you will get 1 point, 3 points if the practice can be considered sustainable. If a production practice on your list is not innovative, you will lose 0.5 points. The jury (formed by classmates and the lecturer) will decide the points imputable to each participant. The one who ranks in first place will be the InnoWinner.

Skills to develop: critical thinking, thinking speed, peer-assessment.

Exercise 6: Sustainable Business Plan Development

Write a business plan for creating a new company or developing and launching a new product that fulfills sustainability standards. It is of the utmost importance that you integrate People + Planet + Profit in your project. Thus, the business plan must consider and promote aspects that cause an improvement for sustainability and also include the design of the product; an analysis of the context; a plan for the production, management, and marketing; and a financial study. The social, ecological, and economic aspects should be clearly integrated in the work. You will have to do both an oral (30 min) and written presentation (maximum length 30 pages) of your business plan. Two lecturers and a practitioner from a sustainable start-up will be involved in the evaluation, considering the originality and the correct realization of the task.

Skills to develop: search for information, critical thinking, communication and presentation, project-development.

Engaged Sustainability Lessons

  • The role of sustainable entrepreneurs is paramount, as they are responsible for designing and developing new products and projects aligning social, environmental and economic objectives.

  • Universities must transmit the importance of sustainability, instill these values in their students, and promote research programs related to sustainable development.

  • Many methods exist to teach students about sustainable practices. Some of the most commonly used methods include problem-based learning activities, project-based learning activities, living labs, and transdisciplinary activities.

Chapter-End Reflection Questions

After reading this chapter:
  • Do you think it is feasible to become a sustainable entrepreneur, looking to the common good for both society and environment, without giving up profits? If you were thinking of creating a new business, would you try to be a sustainable entrepreneur?

  • Taking into consideration the results obtained from students’ feedback, would you consider changing some of your habits in order to contribute to a more sustainable world?

  • Have you become more aware of the importance of educating for sustainability? If you are in a higher education setting, are you willing to apply teaching methodologies or participate in activities that promote the acquisition of sustainable skills?

  • If you ever have to make a business plan, will you follow the patterns proposed in this chapter in order to make the project sustainable, integrating People + Planet + Profit in the design of it?

If the answers to the previous questions are “yes,” it means that the objectives pursued with this chapter have been fulfilled: highlighting the importance of sustainability and providing tools to instill this skill in students in a higher education context.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dolors Gil-Doménech
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Economy and Business OrganizationUniversitat Internacional de CatalunyaBarcelonaSpain

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