Julia Binder

Professor of Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation

Julia Binder is Professor of Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation. She specializes in the intersection between sustainability and innovation. Her research and teaching explore the processes, strategies, and mechanisms that allow entrepreneurs and managers to combine economic, social, and environmental impact in their businesses. As Director of IMD’s Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business, she aims to help business leaders find radical and innovative solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our time. Her work on how sustainable entrepreneurs could provide a blueprint for other business leaders led to her being named on the 2022 Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers to watch in the coming year.

While companies are often denounced as being part of the sustainability problem, Binder believes that seizing their size and scale to achieve positive impact is likely to be one of the decisive factors in our collective efforts to halt environmental degradation and reduce social inequalities.

She is particularly interested in new business models that have the potential to transform our economic system by putting humans and the natural environment at the heart of the organization.

In this work, she draws inspiration from sustainable entrepreneurs who seek to radically change entire industries and create truly holistic and inclusive organizations. Sustainable entrepreneurs, she says, engage in radical leadership, question and rethink common practices and procedures, and envision and implement bold new ideas that seem impossible to others. Instead of aiming for a competitive advantage and profit maximization, they are joining forces with all possible stakeholders to co-create, co-execute, and co-impact for a sustainable future.

Businesses have the power to shape a sustainable future, yet to enable such profound transformations they themselves need to change – and it is no exaggeration to say that this transformation is by far the biggest organizational challenge of our time.

Binder received her PhD summa cum laude from the Technical University of Munich for her thesis on sustainable entrepreneurship, and she continues to research the topic at IMD. She has discovered that sustainable entrepreneurs display psychological traits that could help other executives learn how to reframe problems so that they can better identify solutions. “From studies with entrepreneurs we found they are looking at these problems through different lenses – and by doing that, they are coming up with non-obvious, interesting, and insightful solutions to the biggest challenges of our times,” she says.

She also focuses on processes and approaches that are being piloted by sustainable entrepreneurs – such as new work structures with unlimited vacations, and strategies that equally weight social and environmental issues with profit – to see how they could be implemented at larger organizations to enable them to stay relevant in the future.

The Center for Sustainable and Inclusive Business, led by Binder, also aims to support leaders and companies who are keen to take steps towards a more sustainable and inclusive business world by harnessing IMD’s knowledge and expertise in the area and offering tools to help them deliver systemic, innovative, and impactful responses.

Binder’s research has been published in the Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, and Academy of Management Review, and she teaches on IMD’s Transition to Business Leadership (TBL) and Digital Marketing Strategies (DMS) programs as well as organizing its MBA Innovation Week.

Prior to joining IMD in 2021, Binder was Deputy to the Vice President for Innovation at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and led the school’s sustainability initiative Tech4Impact. In this role she established a multi-stakeholder platform bringing together actors from academia, business, NGOs, governments, and civil society to realize innovative and entrepreneurial solutions with potential to achieve sustainable impact. She also served as Chair of the Swiss Space Center.

Selected publications