By Nudge Sustainability Reporter Adriana Olaya
Today’s main market goals can be described by one simple word: growth. Each industry seeks to grow weather in market share, product demand, company’s profit, sales rate and so on. Nowadays a business year, with stable and constant numbers instead of increasing numbers is seen as a failed year. Companies are so focused on this goal, that often the real purpose improving the live quality of the consumers is forgotten. This different priorities, increasing sales rates versus users benefits, leads to a more and more increasing gap between consumers and industries. The consequence is unsatisfied users, who see their needs unmet. These unsolved problems lead more users to turn into business, responding their own local needs. Users transform from only consumers into persons who are responsible for creating key innovations in a wide variety of sectors. Concerning Shah, users developed 60% of the key innovations in consumer sporting equipment (Shah, 2005). The same applies in the field of scientific instruments (76%) and in the sector of semiconductor and electronics subassembly manufacturing equipment (67%)(Hippel, 1976).
But consumers not only innovate to meet their own needs. There are also innovations that help the industry. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation, released a study (Who Are User Entrepreneurs? Findings on Innovation, Founder Characteristics, and Firm Characteristics, 2012) that quantifies the prevalence and characteristics of user entrepreneurs. They identified three types of user entrepreneurs. The first type is the “End-user entrepreneur", who develops products or services for personal use. Second the “Professional-user entrepreneur”. His or her products are meant to help the business sector. The last type is the “Hybrid professional”, who had performed research and development during their first year of operations.
Another consequence of the immense seek of growth is the environmental exploitation. In order to increase companies profit one obvious manner is decreasing the production costs. This can be achieved by outsourcing the production in cheaper countries, where besides cheaper manpower also environmental restrictions are less severe. Further the transport paths, shipping goods to the outsourced production and shop products back, raise, which leads to even higher pollution. Another method of increasing profit is shrink the material costs, which is often accompanied by more environmental costs in terms of using ecologically harmful chemicals, pesticides or materials.
Although the companies do a main part in this entire construct, just railing against the evil companies would be easy. Also the users have a partial blame. By claiming our used but high living standard – in the best cases for very cheap money – we are also part of the whole increasing-decreasing dilemma. In the supermarket you want to buy tomatoes the whole year, fresh bananas every day, fashionable cloths but not for big money.. Obviously, such demands encourage the exploitation of workers and the environment.
But in the last years, late 90’s, there is a change in the users’ way of thinking. Due to more and more ecological disasters, exposure of scandals in food or production industries or just the informative new medias, there is an observed growing consciousness towards environmental and human issues. Of course this change also influences the market. Global becomes local or “cheap is best” changes to “sustainable/exploitation-free is best” In the 1990’s a great market opportunity evolved by the rise of business opportunities offered by emerging alternative lifestyle choices, new environmental legislation and the recognition of the competitive advantages of green and sustainable business (Holt, 2010). During this period, new businesses, especially “green” micro organizations (start-ups) were encouraged to create more sustainable business models. Entrepreneurs have realized that there is the possibility to solve the biggest challenges of our time, in terms of environmental sustainability and adding social value, while at the same time finding manners to earn money. The outcome is a win-win situation.
Nevertheless, research and different case studies in diverse sectors, prove that sustainable user entrepreneurship will be the key driver for business success of new products and services for a sustainable future; more than 46% of innovative startups that have lasted five years or more were created by user entrepreneurs. This success is due to the understanding of real needs of local consumers. Entrepreneurs who use their own products land more venture capital and have better survival rates than startup businesses overall. Others success factors are the understanding of the chain value, the creation of innovation and change-oriented behaviors through sustainable consumption trends, based on the end-user’s everyday experience with a given good, service or system.
This condition of success stimulates the industries to change. This transformation of sectors towards sustainability due to user entrepreneurship towards this scope is increasingly changing the industry towards sustainable development. Sustainable innovators are effectively decisive change agents because of their ability to transform a sector of the economy towards sustainability by starting up a business with a sustainable core strategy to strain that sector with a green design, with green processes towards society and with a life-long commitment to sustainability. The vast majority of sustainable user entrepreneurs attempt to find the right balance within the economic, social, cultural and ecological environments, aiming the world a better place to live by the generation of innovative products or services based through their own experiences as users, trying to find solutions of local needs.