The business case for sustainability : a small firm perspective
The empirical research outlined in this submission explores the environmental attitudes and practices of owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and Japan. The submission spans three studies conducted over a period of seven years from 2000-2007, involving interviews with a total of 70 owner-managers and 22 government and industry 'key informants', as well as survey responses from 220 SMEs. The research provides a dynamic picture of the barriers and drivers of environmental reform within small businesses during this time, embedding the findings within broader debates on sustain ability and 'ecological modernisation' (EM) theory. A key conclusion of the research is that an SME policy strategy which relies too heavily on voluntarism and self-regulation is unlikely to be effective due to the many internal and external barriers to environmental management experienced by owner-managers. A more participatory and interventionist approach, which combines education initiatives with stricter regulatory controls, market-based instruments and negotiated decision-making is highlighted as a potentially more successful way to encourage SMEs to reduce their environmental impacts. The responses of business owners also highlight that to achieve environmental goals, it is just as important to encourage a change in culture amongst customers as it is amongst companies. The research thus recommends that EM scholars broaden their focus to include the ecological modernisation of consumption, and to engage with contested concepts such as 'sufficiency' and equity in order to ensure that theory can still have currency and gravitas in debates on sustainable development.