[Do not publish] Shaping Sustainable Development Policies to Scale the Impacts of Eco-entrepreneurship

IMG 9176editA few weeks ago I was in Nairobi where we (SEED) held our annual SEED Africa Symposium. The event was the biggest one yet, with over 500 representatives from government agencies, the private sector, civil society organisations and academic institutions from 34 countries; all gathering to build bridges for impact. It was humbling to witness the passion and drive that is put into making sustainable development a reality and the consensus that green and inclusive growth through eco-entrepreneurship is a major channel to achieve that goal was overwhelming.

While the value of eco-entrepreneurship in delivering sustainable development is increasingly recognised and harnessed in the development sphere, there is still little data available on the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) impacts* of these enterprises and their contribution to sustainable development. To help fill that gap SEED has observed the progress and impacts of SEED Winners in Colombia, India, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Viet Nam. The study resulted in 12 case studies and generated insights for policy and decision-makers on the role of green and inclusive enterprises in achieving sustainable development, but also on the enabling factors that can help them overcome barriers, reach scale and replicate.

How green and inclusive businesses contribute to sustainable development: evidence from the grassroots

By embracing the added values of social improvement and wise resource management, social and environmental enterprises, also known as green and inclusive businesses or eco-enterprises, are living proof that entrepreneurial approaches driven by TBL objectives can create innovative and novel solutions for delivering sustainable development at the grassroots. Our evidence shows that all cases achieve social, economic and environmental impacts through the goods and services they provide. While the nature of each enterprise varies, we identified key categories in which those impacts can be clustered:  

Environmental impacts

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  • Climate change mitigation: for example, Dichung in Vietnam reduces more than 143 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by addressing people’s dependence on fossil fuels through an innovative ridesharing platform.

  • Waste reduction through waste management, recycling and development of bio-degradable alternatives: Watamu Solid Waste Management and Recycling Enterprises (WSWMR) in Kenya has reduced coastal waste and littering in Watamu by 20%.

  • Promotion of biodiversity and conservation: Muliru Farmers in Kenya protect the country’s last rainforest by providing an alternative source of income and alternative sources of firewood to over 2,500 people living in the Kakamega area.

Social impacts 

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  • An increase of income and job opportunities for marginalised groups:  EcoPost in Kenya and BanaPads and Solar Sister in Uganda provide over 4,000 people in marginalised communities with direct income and micro-business opportunities; the benefits trickle down to nearly 16,000 people in the communities.

  • Education, training and skill development: Tambul Leaf Plates in Northeast India, has trained over 500 male youth and 400 women on how to produce bio-degradable plates

  • Women empowerment and improvement of gender equality: PROVOKAME in Colombia, BanaPads and Solar Sister in Uganda, and Muthi Futhi in South Africa specifically empower women through the products and services they provide and with 76-99% representation of women in the workforce, including in managerial and decision-making positions.

  • Increase in local food security and quality of nutrition: Innovations such as the seed strips of Claire Reid Reel Gardening maximise the germination rate whilst reducing the water usage by 80% compared to traditional practices, which has so far improved the access to fresh vegetables for over 30,000 children.

  • Provision of basic services in local communities: Many of the eco-enterprises provide goods and services that are lacking in their community. In the case of Banapads in Uganda, where 95% of women cannot afford standard commercial sanitary pads, they offer a safe and affordable alternative accessible to all. 

Economic impacts
  • Creation of innovative value chains that are green and inclusive: By operating in multi-stakeholder partnerships, these enterprises not only involve local chains of suppliers and buyers but also NGOs, local governments and research institutions. In doing so, they develop new value chains, that are green and inclusive

  • Reduction of community costs: Enterprises such as Mooi River Recycling Centre in South Africa, EcoPost and WSWMR in Kenya provide an important service to the community (in those instances waste management and recycling) that cannot be provided by the local government due to lack of infrastructure or resources.

  • Encouragement of local business development: Beneficiaries of eco-enterprises receive training in transferable business skills which, combined with the extra income, enables them to set up independent micro-businesses.

(while these are only examples, the full range of impacts achieved by each enterprise is available in the SEED Case studies)


8 recommendations how public and private policies can increase the impacts of the green and inclusive business sector

These enterprises face numerous challenges to sustain their growth and scale up, such as limited access to finance for working capital or investments for scale-up; gaps in business skills and an unfavourable business environment. Policy makers in the public and private sector have the power to tackle those issues and create more favourable environments for these enterprises to grow. The study highlights that to support the growth and scale-up of these enterprises, it is imperative for policies to:

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  1. recognise the value and needs of eco-entrepreneurship in order to transition to a Green Economy and involve the participation of these enterprises in policy development discussions;

  2. include provisions for training in business development and skills building;

  3. facilitate access to finance and help grants-based models transition to revenue-generating models;

  4. enable local governments and communities to take on the role of incubators

  5. facilitate partnerships and networks;

  6. support enterprises in setting and monitoring triple bottom line targets;

  7. promote gender balance and youth inclusion;

  8. support a regulatory environment for eco-enterprises; including streamlining bureaucratic processes, protecting intellectual property and creating business tax incentives for the incorporation of triple bottom line impacts

More recommendations are available in the reports: Shaping Sustainable Development through Eco-entrepreneurship and Growing Green and Inclusive Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development in South Africa


Improving global monitoring and reporting for more adequate policies


The SEED study, along with numerous other similar studies, highlights only a fragment of these enterprises’ potential. Looking ahead in the context of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is no doubt that this sector can contribute to the implementation of most of the Goals. However, new strategies and appropriate mechanisms and tools need to be devised to ensure that the contribution of the whole sector in achieving the SDGs is monitored and documented adequately; in a way that informs policymakers and enables them to adopt policies that stimulate the sector’s growth further. A discussion around “Measuring Impacts of Eco-entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development Policies” that took place at the SEED Symposium identified several conditions to improve the recognition of the sector, which will be published at the end of October.


*Social, environmental and economic