Konrad Kutt Okt. 2020

Institut für Nachhaltigkeit 

in Bildung, Arbeit und Kultur GbR

Junior companies (student companies) – a method for acquiring skills for sustainable management, for sustainable business creation and entrepreneurial thinking and acting

This detailed description, including the theoretical background, is intended to highlight the aspects of entrepreneurial activity of young people. Against this background, the erasmus + project proposes to test the concept of „sustainable junior enterprise“.  

1.Which developments and which megatrends does the project „Sustainable Junior Companies“ address? 

More and more people want the satisfaction of their needs, especially in the areas of housing, energy, nutrition, health, mobility, information (key-points), to be oriented towards a lifestyle that is in harmony with what we call „sustainable development“ today. In the face of the deformations of an „unbridled, global turbo-capitalism“, however, it is initially a minority that demands e.g. organic products, renewable energies, fair trade products, soft travel and discovers more quality of life in lower consumption (How much is enough?). LoHaS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) refers to a demanding, environmentally conscious, affluent, pleasure-oriented consumer elite.

Similarly, there is still a minority of companies that develop and produce sustainable products and services in this sense or that orientate their corporate self-image holistically towards the model of sustainability. The „social capitalists“ portrayed by Hannes Koch (including Otto, Hoppe-Ritter, Kramer, Faber-Castell) are probably a notable exception. Technical, societal or social innovations that lead to fundamental change usually take place in secret, in contradiction to the prevailing opinion. They are ridiculed and fought against. At first there can be no talk of a megatrend of sustainable development, especially since contradictions and inconsistencies as part of social reality constantly call the trend into question. 

Nevertheless, the „environmental economy“ is recording a great deal of growth.

People always speak of a sustainably producing avant-garde of companies and an avant-garde of sustainable consumers. The Unternehmensverband der grünen Wirtschaft e.V. organises companies with a declared ecological and social profile. Since its foundation in 1992, it now has around 320 member companies.


For these entrepreneurs, but also for the training of the next generation, the following questions are in the foreground

Which competences are required? What experience does someone need to have in order to succeed as a „sustainable entrepreneur“? What contribution can vocational education and training make to „entrepreneurial thinking and acting of sustainable management“? What contribution does the „junior company“ method make to increasing self-employment? How can business start-ups be promoted in the sustainable economy?  Will it be possible to find answers to these questions in the conventional VET system, or are new methods and structures needed?  

The area of competence „sustainable management“ has been virtually ignored in vocational training to date. Entrepreneurial activity“ is also neglected in training, because training is primarily aimed at entrepreneurs in dependent employment. 

In addition to the substantive question „What is sustainable management?“, the main issue is which method is best suited to acquire competences for „entrepreneurial thinking and acting for sustainable management“.

In doing so, a pedagogical principle from primeval times (Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi 1746-1827) is taken up, which was later developed further as a precursor of the work and production schools, especially by Georg Kerschensteiner (1854 – 1932) (keyword: from book school to work school). 

Then there is the junior company developed in the 1980s by Professor Wolfgang Fix and Konrad Kutt, which sees itself as an intersection of experiential learning, learning in real projects, wholeness and independence. Self-discovery of knowledge, curiosity, courage and experimentation are among the principles that Reinhard Kahl also vividly highlights in the documentary film „Children“. The options for sustainability and sustainable business start-ups are explicitly included. 

While some of the economic and social elites make the headlines through self-service, corruption and fraud, there are others who use their knowledge and skills directly for the benefit of the learners, the children, the weak, the trainees and the young generation.

What conductor Simon Rattle has done for music education and self-discipline of young people, sustainable entrepreneurs should do for sustainable competence development.

This is also the case in the project presented here: the junior companies are founded in socially and ecologically committed, successful enterprises and are oriented towards the sustainable profile of the products and processes. In the USA there have been more than 8000 so-called junior achievement companies in high schools for many years, although they do not yet teach environmental awareness.

2. What concrete contribution will be made, thus making it

„instigating success model“?

It is no longer unusual for young people to do research. The projects „Jugend denkt Zukunft“ and „50 Drafts of Young Scientists for Tomorrow’s World“ show how „unspent and unconventional thinking“ can be encouraged. Together with trainees or pupils, sustainable product and service ideas are developed in line with the training company. While apprenticeship training often empowers them to simply do things right, these junior companies are mainly concerned with doing the right things, i.e. sustainable things. New points of view are often based on amazingly simple means, but naturally also require the use of modern technologies.

The project Sustainable Junior Companies invites trainees to look to the future and to work out sustainable problem-solving proposals together with „their“ training companies and to bring them to market maturity with a business plan. They are measured by their feasibility in the here and now. In contrast to „only“ thinking about the future, the marketability of the future is to be enforced here. This does not work without theory. In the course of six two-day accompanying workshops, the juniors acquire basic, specialist and reflective knowledge on „sustainable management“. Both: practical work in the junior company and the workshops form the basis for a „sustainable management“ certificate.

The history of the junior companies for 30 years shows the methodology as an instigating model for success. It has developed in many ways, e.g. to ecologically oriented, school-based, virtual and now also sustainable junior companies. At least in the context in which the sustainable business elite is committed to this model in the interest of securing young talent, it will have an instigating character.

3. How do self-employment and sustainable development go together?

Modern vocational education and training aims at vocational action competence, i.e. the independent handling of more or less complex tasks. For this purpose, the concept of „complete action“ was introduced years ago as a quality feature. The complete action includes the independently inform, plan, decide, carry out, control and evaluate. Within the framework of the project presented, the „Competence Independence“ is related to the following life and work situations:

– coping with one’s own life economy, household, housing

– Independence in the „marketing“ of one’s own manpower – one also speaks of a „manpower entrepreneur

– Intrapreneurship

– self-employment in the sense of setting up a business (ecopreneurs, socialpreneure, culturepreneure) – entrepreneurship

– Coping with changes in life and professional biography: change of work, non-work, further education, sabbatical, family phase.

Sustainable VET geared to emancipation and vocational autonomy must also take into account the ability to shape everyday life and the economy of life, the social space of the neighbourhood and the discontinuity of change. Life does not at all consist only of work from continuous permanent employment. The Junior Company project can provide answers to this question through its experience-oriented approach, because the skills acquired there generally serve to be sustainably entrepreneurially active in the sectors and living conditions mentioned above.

4. How the project can support the acquisition of producer responsibility be implemented?

In the junior company project, trainees or students take on responsibility for future-proof products and production processes. With the legal institution of „product liability“ and the polluter-pays principle, producer liability has long been a formal component of economic education. 

However, the concept of producer responsibility does not go far enough, unless it includes responsibility for the entire value-added chain, i.e. responsibility for supplier products, the use phase at the user or customer. It finally ends with responsibility for the post-use phase. 

If one thinks from the end, i.e. the benefit that the product is intended to provide, then it seems inevitable to combine producer responsibility with consumer responsibility. The keyword is „user integration“. This means, for example, that customers or users are involved in product development 

and trained or technically accompanied in the optimisation of use. Concepts such as consumer protection and „sustainable consumption“ are integrated into junior company training, as it were, e.g. through participation and education.

This also fulfils the dual role of trainees/students: they are also „producers“, either as employees or self-employed. And they are consumers.

5. How it can be transmitted to all and what are the prerequisites for this?

„Broadcast“ is often accompanied by a diffuse illusion. However, innovations of the kind we are talking about here have a hard time making it broadly accepted in the first stage. They violate – necessarily – against social conventions, because with the economic theory approach of sustainability and the vocational training, methodological approach, in the view of structurally conservative gatekeepers, they are often outside conventional structures (e.g. the vocational training system). Nevertheless, the qualitative power of the factual elements of the success model can have a pull effect on other companies. Of course, all tried and tested transfer strategies are used. The main focus is on the civil society commitment of the sustainable economy. It is a central prerequisite for success that the business and cultural elites implement the model of the sustainable junior company in the interest of the 

To use the promotion of youth and sustainable competence with its possibilities.