Environmental sustainability and SME’s

Environmental sustainability and SME's

Why environmental sustainability is important for all businesses – regardless of size

Did you know?

  • Over 99% of UK businesses are classed as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
  • It is estimated that SMEs in the UK are responsible for up to 60% of industrial pollution
  • 2021 saw a 29.4% growth in ethical consumerism, along with a 17.9% increase in consumers boycotting brands based on ethical concerns

There is no doubt consumers are taking their personal responsibilities seriously, actively seeking out sustainable and ethical businesses who promote an approach to sustainability, the big question is to what extent are small businesses following suit?

Why does it matter?

Concerns related to threats to our planet from climate change and related factors such as pollution levels, waste production and the depletion of valued natural resources to name a few are increasing and have been heightened due to recent events such as Covid-19 and a myriad of large corporate scandals causing environmental damage, creating significant and complex challenges for society in general. As such Environmental sustainability (ES) has become a key area of research and businesses of all sizes are under increasing pressure to improve their practices.

Research has shown that SMEs are less likely to voluntarily engage in sustainability practices, are reluctant to go further than regulatory measures and are failing to address sustainability issues within their businesses. Harsh criticism included the vision that SMEs are “ignorant of (their) environmental impacts ….. Oblivious of the importance of sustainability …..Cynical of the benefits of self-regulation (and) difficult to reach, mobilise or engage in any improvements to do with the environment” (Jenkins, 2004).

However much of that research has been based on characteristics and strategies utilised by larger firms, with the assumptions that SMEs are simply scaled down versions of larger organisations!

This highlights a significant lack of understanding of the reality of SME practices, including sustainability and the need for a bottom up approach to research is needed to understand the reality of SMEs, their understanding of environmental responsibilities and every day practices implemented or barriers faced, as opposed to the prism of corporate organisations.

Are you quietly embedding sustainable practices such as minimising waste, using renewables, sourcing from ethical suppliers?

Don’t worry if you answered no as not all businesses have the same opportunities, but maybe there are steps you could take or barriers that previous researchers have not taken into account.

What’s in it for me you might be asking:

  • Improved brand reputation by promoting sustainable practices
  • Possibility of increased custom as consumers are actively seeking businesses who promote sustainable practices
  • Reduced costs and increased profits
  • Protecting our planet for future generations

Just thinking about your sustainable practices is one step further to developing or improving your own strategies, the next step is to complete the survey (link below), to help paint a true picture of how ethical small businesses actually are, even the smallest steps count!

This survey is part of an MBA in Entrepreneurship dissertation project with Glyndwr University. You can fill it in here: https://forms.office.com/r/sxP5R2XkdW

The research objectives are to:

  • Establish the approaches small businesses use in developing and promoting sustainability practices.
  • Investigate and quantify the implementation of any environmental sustainability processes.
  • Assess the relationship between the personal sustainability values of the business owner and the implementation of any sustainability practices in their business.
  • Establish whether small businesses adopt any formal planning strategies.
  • Outline any perceived barriers to developing a more sustainable approach.
  • Identify any sustainability promotions utilised.

The research objectives were developed in and attempt to identify the actual practices of working SME’s, including small scale practices and innovative trends and techniques that are being quietly implemented.

A great deal of research identified in a systematic literature review related to SME sustainability focussed on specific types of business or foreign trades, the aim of this study was to collect data from a range of UK small businesses, in order to gain a better understanding of what sustainability practices are being implemented, what planning strategies are being used and what barriers are preventing development. 

Patricia Haddock is studying for an MBA in Entrepeneurship at Glyndwr University. To help with this research project, please complete the survey here.