Published: Nov. 4, 2022

From Business at Leeds 2022 | Full issue

A Leeds researcher says founders may be our best hope for solving climate change.

Jeff York on his bicycle. The remains of a burned subdevelopment are visible in the background. When it comes to solving the climate crisis, Jeff York doesn’t put his faith in government or corporations. If this crisis can be solved, he said, it will be because entrepreneurs create novel solutions through innovation, initiative and flexibility—which the establishment has failed to demonstrate. 

“Climate change is potentially the greatest tragedy of our lifetime, and the time to act is rapidly passing us by,” said York, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and chair of the Division of Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Leeds. “Unfortunately, how to address it has become an extremely polarizing, politicized issue.”

In a groundbreaking study to be published in Organization Science, York and his co-authors explored how entrepreneurship is a promising, yet often overlooked, method of addressing climate change.  

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“Creating entrepreneurial solutions to address climate change is the single biggest economic opportunity that’s going to exist in my lifetime.”

Jeff York, chair, Social Responsibility and Sustainability Division 

They found that at a time when climate change is a political topic, entrepreneurs with climate-conscious products can establish a common ground between the pro-market, generally conservative side, which values growing business, and the liberal-leaning pro-environment side, which values protecting the planet. 

Climate programs at Leeds
A selection of some of the many climate-related programs offered at the business school:
Clean Energy MBA Pathway
Climate Action for Business Certificate
Energy Finance Bootcamp
The Sustainable Firm: ESG Strategies & Practices
Energy Science & Technology
Renewable and Sustainable Energy in Practice

“Our research found environmental entrepreneurs do better in markets with high influence from both pro-market and pro-environment logics,” he said. “This levels the playing field and allows them to compete effectively with existing firms.”

“Entrepreneurs create for-profit ventures that can address climate change in a way that government and activists cannot,” he said.

To that end, of note is the changing attitude around climate change and business. Donor support helped fund a key data set used in York’s research, demonstrating the business community’s interest in playing a role in addressing this challenge. 

Being a green business, York said, doesn’t preclude a new venture from being profitable: “Creating entrepreneurial solutions to address climate change is the single biggest economic opportunity that’s going to exist in my lifetime.”

Jeff York riding his bike through the area devastated by the Marshall Fire.

Professor Jeff York surveys the devastation in Louisville from the 2021 Marshall Fire—a prime example of how wildfire danger has escalated due to climate change. He believes entrepreneurial thinking can help prevent tragedies like this in the future.

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