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Regulatory focus theory and sustainable entrepreneurship

Denise Fischer (Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany)
René Mauer (ESCP Europe, Berlin, Germany)
Malte Brettel (Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 29 June 2017

Issue publication date: 19 March 2018



The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of regulatory focus in sustainable entrepreneurship processes to answer questions on how sustainable entrepreneurs pursue their goals and what motivates them. Knowledge about an entrepreneur’s motivational attribute is essential when trying to understand new venture creation processes. To determine an entrepreneur’s affiliation with one of the two self-regulatory systems, promotion focus and prevention focus, it is helpful to establish whether he or she is motivated by growth and development goals (promotion) or rather by responsibility and security goals (prevention).


In a qualitative study of seven sustainable ventures, two semi-structured interview rounds with 14 founders were conducted. Archival data from internal and external sources were gathered, resulting in more than 80 text documents.


Findings reveal that the self-regulatory focus of sustainable entrepreneurs changes during the entrepreneurial process with regard to the temporal dynamics of motivation. While conceiving ideas, sustainable entrepreneurs engage in a prevention-focused self-regulatory process because social or ecological problems induce them to direct their attention toward sustainable development goals. During rollout, in contrast, they increasingly engage in a promotion-focused self-regulatory process and concentrate more on venture growth goals.

Practical implications

The results highlight the important role of a regulatory fit between key self-regulatory entrepreneurial behaviors and entrepreneurs’ regulatory orientation toward increased motivation and enjoyment when pursuing goals.


This study’s contributions extend and combine the theories of regulatory focus, entrepreneurial motivation, and entrepreneurial processes in the field of sustainable entrepreneurship. They are valuable for understanding the determinants of sustainable entrepreneurial action.



This paper forms part of a special section: advancing sustainable entrepreneurship through substantive research.


Fischer, D., Mauer, R. and Brettel, M. (2018), "Regulatory focus theory and sustainable entrepreneurship", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 408-428.



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