Improving the environmental performance of small and medium sized enterprises : an assessment of attitudes and voluntary action in the UK.
The environmental performance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) was chosen to
be the topic of study for this thesis. While this policy-relevant research area has gained
increased coverage in the literature over the last decade, it has still proved difficult to
generate empirical data and information of sufficient quality and quantity. A major aspect of
environmental performance involves the management of waste, and waste minimisation was of
particular interest to this programme of research.
Another area of special interest for this thesis was the extent to which voluntary policy tools
(voluntary initiatives, or VIs) could be utilised at the local level to engage with SMEs on the
issue of improved environmental performance. The early desk study research revealed the
major barriers preventing more environmental action by SMEs to date. The barriers included
low-priority attachment to environmental issues, a lack of time/manpower and limited
understanding. It also revealed that while VIs have proved successful at the 'macro' level
there is little evidence or experience to draw on for their design or implementation at the
The programme of empirical research Involved an original analysis of a recent nation-wide
survey into the environmental attitudes of UK manufacturing businesses; the completion of an
environmental attitudes survey with approximately 60 SMEs situated in East Anglia;
observation of a waste-oriented local authority environment project Involving small
businesses and a similar project with a rural village community in Suffolk, and finally the
establishment of two voluntary waste minimisation initiatives on Industrial estates in Norfolk
The national survey analysis identified smaller sites as consistently less proactive in most
areas of environmental thinking and action. This finding was not strongly confirmed by the
survey of East Anglian SMEs which showed that a small business does not have to be a member
of an environmental group/initiative to have already adopted certain sound environmental
practices, even if primarily these measures were geared towards cost savings/efficiency gains.
The industrial estates projects have proved to be particularly useful, demonstrating the
potential benefits of this type of voluntary action which capitalises on the close geographical
proximity of a number of SMEs sharing common problems. The benefits included a reduction
of waste generation, the development of more environmentally responsive business cultures
and improved relations with the local authority. The village community project that brought
together all elements of the local society from the businesses to the school, in a rural setting,
seems to be a sensible way to focus minds on the reduction of waste and consequent benefits.