Open accesscreativecommonsPeer reviewed/Research article
Published: December 2022

Practising sustainability beyond growth in eco-social entrepreneurship: An international comparative case study

Sunna KovanenORCID and Anna UmantsevaORCID

Vol 55 No 3, pp. 44-56


How to cite this article: Kovanen, S. & Umantseva, A. (2022). Practising sustainability beyond growth in eco-social entrepreneurship: An international comparative case study. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 55(3), 44-56. https://


This paper explores whether and how eco-social enterprises (ESEs) in rural areas are able to foster sustainability beyond growth in their daily practice. We approach sustainability beyond growth as a radical intertwining of social, ecological and economic concerns, where economy is understood as the secure and long-term fulfilling of basic needs within planetary limits. The study compares daily practices of five established ESEs in Brandenburg, Germany and Alentejo, Portugal. The ESEs represent the fields of agriculture and tourism and are diverse in their organisational forms and sizes. The data includes ethnography, interviews and document analysis. According to the results, ESEs support transition towards sustainability beyond growth and extractivism by facilitating slow, caring and respectful production practices that balance the needs of nature and human participants. While findings demonstrate such practices across all organisational forms and sizes, they were the most ambitious and heterogeneous in large co-operatives in less peripheral locations with more initial resources. Ethical negotiations on economic risk-sharing and decision-making were intertwined in and stabilised by market relations and hierarchical decision-making. Small and peripheral ESEs need to balance between the risk of exclusivity, precarity, complexity of diverse participation and limited resources for coordination.



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