Small is Sustainable (And Beautiful!) – Encouraging European Smaller Enterprises To Be Sustainable

By David Grayson and Tom Dodd, Doughty Centr

Small is Sustainable (And Beautiful!) – Encouraging European Smaller Enterprises To Be Sustainable

This paper takes stock of the some of the significant progress made and lessons learned in supporting the uptake of corporate social responsibility (CSR) amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It then identifies a number of issues that we think merit further attention as this important work continues. Our key messages are:

  • In some countries, the language of “sustainability” may be more attractive to smaller businesses than that of “responsibility”.
  • Messengers, as well as messages, matter.
  • “Horses for courses” – promotion, information and training about sustainability need to be targeted.
  • Facilitating peer-to-peer engagement and learning seems to offer particular opportunities.
  • Supply chain pressures for sustainability are increasing and are likely to intensify.

Our target audience is mainly policy-makers and practitioners from SME “intermediaries” – that is to say from organisations that support or represent SMEs in a variety of different ways. We also hope it will be relevant to businessled CSR organisations, such as the national partners of CSR Europe, and to large businesses seeking to engage SMEs in CSR, either through supply-chain initiatives or through leadership initiatives such as the European CSR Alliance. This paper is not an academic paper as such, although it draws on the work of a number of academics active in this field. In turn we hope that the paper may inspire new avenues of academic research.

With the recent growth in concern about climate change it is conceivable that there will be more publicly-funded programmes to help SMEs become environmentally sustainable. As far as possible, such programmes ought to seek to keep a balance between the strictly environmental aspects of sustainability and social and economic aspects. Even if such initiatives do not come in the guise of initiatives to “promote CSR”, it is important that they build on and take account of the many lessons learned from initiatives that have sought to support the uptake of CSR amongst small businesses. This paper aims to be a contribution in that context also.

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