Alternatives to Capitalism: Learning From Pro-Social Collective Business Models

Alternatives to Capitalism: Learning From Pro-Social Collective Business Models

Raquel Antolin-Lopez (University of Almeria, Spain) and Ana Lopez-Cruz (University of Almeria, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1981-3.ch013


The seriousness of current social and environmental problems implies that a real transition towards sustainable development is only possible through collaborative actions between actors and organizations. However, most of the research continues to focus on the actions of individual sustainable entrepreneurs with little evidence on business models triggered by collective entrepreneurship. This chapter aims to analyze the role of emerging pro-social collective organizations that aim to offer alternatives to capitalism, that is, an alternative to organizations that only seek to maximize economic revenues at the expense of social and environmental deterioration. Specifically, the chapter analyzes the business models of three sustainable cooperatives in Spain that have initiated a movement that promotes social well-being and environmental concern through collective business models that rely heavily on social media to gain exposure and attract followers to their cause in different strategic sectors. The cooperatives subject of this study are Som Energia, Som Conexió, and Som Mobilitat.
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The exacerbation of social and environmental problems at a global level, such as climate change, the melting of the Arctic Circle, natural disasters, poverty and water scarcity has highlighted the need to radically change the way in which societies produce and consume resources. The magnitude of these social and environmental problems has grown to such a degree that many of them have been classified as major sustainability grand challenges (Howard-Grenville et al., 2014). The term grand challenge has recently been coined by academics and professionals to refer to multifaceted and global problems that often span several sectors, whose solution is urgent and whose complexity and dimension requires innovation and scientific research on a large scale (Eisenhardt et al., 2016; George et al., 2016). The United Nations has also recognized the magnitude of these environmental and social challenges and in 2015 translated them into seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) that require urgent action1. The SDGs address global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, etc. and provide specific actions that need to be tackled by 2030 to achieve a more sustainable future for all. The SDGs also highlight the importance of collaboration and partnerships between different actors and organizations to mitigate some of the grand challenges related to sustainability.

Business organizations play a fundamental role in society, since they are the main agents of production and consumption and are therefore considered to be essential actors for solving the social and environmental challenges mentioned above. As a result, companies face increasing pressure from different stakeholders that demand responsibility and proactivity in their actions. Thus, in recent years companies have carried out a wide variety of practices to act as more socially and environmentally responsible agents. However, the exacerbation of social and environmental problems has shown that their attempts and actions have been insufficient (Branzei et al., 2018), since, in global terms, little progress has been made to stop a growing tendency towards unsustainable development and lack of responsibility (Wright & Nyberg, 2017).

Therefore, new business organizational approaches are needed that can contribute to the fight against climate change and tackle major sustainability challenges (e.g., Doh et al., in press, Howard-Grenville et al., 2014, Wright & Nyberg, 2017). It is necessary to radically change traditional capitalism practices and conventional production and commercialization approaches in favor of new organizational approaches to create, design, direct and lead businesses (George et al., 2016) that help to restore the balance between nature, society and economic activity (Antolin-Lopez & Montiel, 2018).

Given this scenario, entrepreneurial efforts around the creation and leadership of new sustainable enterprises have gained notable academic attention in recent decades (Antolin-Lopez et al., 2019; York et al., 2016), since sustainable entrepreneurship has been proposed as the solution to the pressing social and environmental challenges that we face today and to those that will arise in the future (Dean & McMullen, 2007; Hall et al., 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainability Grand Challenges: Global social and environmental problems that have reach a serious level and need urgent action.

Sustainable Business Model: A business model that creates, delivers and captures economic, social, and environmental value.

Sustainable Cooperative: Voluntary association of people in the form of an enterprise that seek to reduce environmental and social impacts or create sustainable value.

Corporate Sustainability: Is the integration of economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability in the management of a company.

Cooperative: Is an autonomous association of people that voluntarily join to create an enterprise.

Collective Business Model: A business model that is strongly based on coordination and collaboration among different actors.

Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Is the phenomenon that includes the recognition, creation, assessment, and exploitation of sustainable opportunities.

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