08 Oct 2021
The Sasin Research Seminar series returned with a fascinating talk by Professor Evan Douglas, Sasin’s senior fellow and visiting professor, on “The Complex Causality of Pro-Sustainability Entrepreneurship Intention”. The lecture began with a clarification of terms starting with ‘Entrepreneurial Intention’ (EI) – the decision to behave entrepreneurially. ‘Pro-sustainability’ refers to the purpose of the venture that is intended, and indicates the entrepreneur wants to preserve and repair the natural environment for the benefit of all life-forms on the planet. Most ventures are likely to be multi-purpose, also seeking profit, social impact, and/or job satisfaction, but it is important to know which is the primary purpose and the relative importance of each purpose. Professor Douglas then discussed how entrepreneurship can provide solutions to sustainability problems, as it involves innovation and promotes new technologies, products, and processes. However, sustainable entrepreneurship is only possible if individuals and firms include it as an objective and important purpose. Theoretically, people will want to include sustainability due to self-determination theory, which posits that people act to serve their own well-being – they derive satisfaction not only from income but also by helping others. A second consideration is that decisions tend to be taken holistically, with actions being interdependent, not isolated. To study holistic decision making requires fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analsysis, which is an analytical method that can accommodate “complex causality”. Complex causality has three properties: Conjunctivity relates to the interdependence of reasons for doing things; Asymmetry recognizes that a reason for doing things might be positive for some people and negative for others; and Equifinality means there is more than one solution to any problem. These properties characterize the reasons for wanting to act in a sustainable manner. Next, Professor Douglas examined and explained the empirical model and how a mix of causal conditions leads to various equifinal solutions, and each of these leads to the focal outcome, which is the formation of sustainable entrepreneurship intention, indicating whether or not a person wants to act sustainably. Sample and data collection was discussed next. Data was received from 76 entrepreneurs engaged in new product development within 26 incubators in Germany. Their average age was 43.5, 83.8% were male, and 74% had a master’s degree. They were planning to start new ventures in a variety of sectors, including business services, information technology, applied science, engineering, and construction. Professor Douglas then explained the constructs and metrics. The entrepreneurs provided answers on to various questions relating to their entrepreneurial intentions, environmental values, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, entrepreneurial knowledge and experience, and environmental knowledge and experience. The different scales and sub-items for each metric were explained in detail. The study also looked at Industry Hostility, Industry Dynamism, and Firm age and size, since these contextual factors are also expected to influence sustainable entrepreneurial intention. The data was first examined using regression analysis to find statistically significant factors, which were age, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, industry hostility, and firm size. These represent sample-average determinants, however, and not necessarily the causes for any individual’s sustainability intention. Next, Fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) was introduced and explained, since it is ideal for case-level analysis of complex causality issues. The fsQCA results were then displayed and discussed. Eight different combinations of interdependent causal conditions( known as configurations and which represent equifinal pathways to sustainable entrepreneurial intentions), were discussed and allocated into a taxonomy of four entrepreneurial types, two of which would pursue sustainability and two which would not. Counterfactual analysis was then applied to explain why some of these entrepreneurs scored low on entrepreneurial intentions, indicating their preference for relatively little pro-activity, risk-taking, and innovation. These all had very low entrepreneurial self-efficacy scores. Again, a taxonomy of four types was found, two of which would pursue sustainability and two which would not This was followed by a series of discussions and talking points, including whether emerging entrepreneurs are likely to include sustainability as an objective, and the different responses depending on the combinations of causal variables included in the empirical model. The lecture ended with a discussion on the study’s contributions, limitations, and the implications for further research. The Q&A session discussed a range of topics, including what constituted environmental considerations; what businesses are likely to be more sustainable; the policy implications of this research; and ways that sustainable entrepreneurial intentions could be encouraged.