Framework for SME’s

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Sustainability: Integrating the Literature to Develop a Framework for SME’s


Business today is called to consider sustainability or corporate social responsibility. Is this call meaningful or relevant to SMEs? Using the taxonomy of Garriga and Mele the literature on the broad spectrum of work related to sustainability and CSR is reviewed to develop a framework for SMEs, structured around the simple concepts of why, when, what, how and where. Further work with the framework will answer two questions; the circumstances of how SMEs engage in sustainability and what are the unique aspects of this sustainability for SMEs..

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Over recent times there has been a growing demand for business to consider corporate sustainability. Most large public companies are engaging with the concept in some way as evidenced by the production of Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility Reports (Bartells, 2008). Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are less likely to be engaged and some would argue they are not even sure what the concept means or whether it is relevant (Redmond, Walker, & Wang, 2008; Spence, Jeurissen, & Rutherfoord, 2000; Vives, 2006).

There is a large body of literature on the aligned concepts of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, corporate social performance, global responsibility and corporate citizenship, with a variety of perspectives, definitions and assumptions. There is no integrated theory or framework broadly adopted by scholars and in fact there have been only a few attempts at this (Garriga & Melé, 2004; Jones, 1983; Montiel, 2008; Wood, 1991). Within the SME literature there have been calls for research to develop a theoretical framework to understand CSR and SME’s (Jenkins, 2006; Thompson & Smith, 1991).

Whilst there is a growing body of literature focused on SMEs it is often merely descriptive and uses a single theoretical lens. A broader model encompassing a wider range of theoretical perspectives may have more utility. The utility and practicability of the framework as a tool for small business will be tested as part of a lager project to develop, from case study research and the literature, a useful integrative framework, to assist SMEs to engage with sustainability in the most appropriate and relevant way for their business. The normative approach frequently used in studies of large organisations whilst ideal may not be the most pertinent to SMEs.

This paper aims to develop a practical theoretical framework unifying the spectrum of theoretical and empirical approaches and focussing in particular on the needs of SMEs. The paper starts with an outline of the concept of sustainability and a review of the unique aspects of SMEs. It then moves into a review of the literature using a taxonomy based on Garriga (Garriga & Melé, 2004), considering both theory development and empirical studies.

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