Social movements could help support finding innovative solutions to issues such as climate change by encouraging entrepreneurial activity. Research shows that social movements can also play a key role in bringing new players into the solar industry, green building and recycling. Such collective enterprises could help push forward the changes needed for entrepreneurship to flourish in emerging industries like green energy.

In the search for innovative solutions to the climate crisis and other challenges, new businesses may find an unexpected source of support: social movements. Though often associated with opposition and protest, such collective enterprises can be crucial in encouraging entrepreneurial activity in emerging industries, serving as catalysts for innovation in some of the areas where it’s needed most. To understand the relationship between social movements and entrepreneurship, we looked at the solar power industry in the US and the tech-focused advocacy organizations dedicated to promoting renewable energy.

We wanted to know whether these social movement organizations can benefit entrepreneurship, as well as where and when they may be most effective in bringing new entrants into the fray.Of course, not all social movement organizations – those dedicated to promoting shared social or cultural goals – are created equal. The US-based organizations we studied had an approach that was targeted and goal-oriented rather than confrontational; they were interested more in educating than in shouting. Examples of the groups we looked at were Carolina Land and LakesAcadia Center and the Energy Trust of Oregon and all launched various initiatives to promote clean energy. They held training and educational programmes; fought misinformation and found common ground; pushed for regulatory reform; and managed programmes for technology swapping or upgrading.

When an industry is in its infancy, social movements help it and new players come across as viable and legitimate. They clarify the unknowns in a company’s offering, push for legal frameworks that make room for them, and target potential customers. Clean energy groups can increase the incidence of state-based incentives like sales tax credits for renewable technologies. Acadia Center, for example, publishes data on the role of clean energy investments on job creation and economic growth, and designs market-based strategies for renewables and advocates for policies to implement them.

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