Growing green?: co-creating an evidence-based model of SME engagement

Blundel, Richard; Fawcett, Tina; Shaw, Chris; Hampton, Sam and Westall, Andrea (2017). Growing green?: co-creating an evidence-based model of SME engagement. In: ISBE Annual Conference 2017, 8-9 Nov 2017, Belfast.



Topic: This paper reports on our experiences in running a pilot ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) project that addresses the issue of ‘sustainable growth’ by engaging SME owners and managers in facilitated workshop discussions on this important, yet highly contested topic. If the UK and other countries are to meet their carbon reduction obligations, it is clear that SMEs will need to make significant, and in some cases radical changes, not only in terms of their day-to-day operational practices but also in their longer-term trajectories. However, policymakers face substantial obstacles in communicating with this audience, including: the scale and diversity of the SME population, competing priorities, competitive pressures and resource constraints. This project combines published research on SMEs, their growth processes and environmental behaviours, with specialist expertise in SME engagement and climate change communication.

Aim: The multi-partner collaboration is designed to co-create new knowledge on environmentally sustainable growth in SMEs. Its primary aim is to help SMEs and intermediaries gain a better understanding of sustainable growth and its implications for their businesses. The team designed and trialled an innovative approach engagement, based on facilitated workshop discussions, creating an initial evidence base that will be coupled with a set of practical recommendations. The project builds on the academic and external partners’ complementary research insights into SMEs, organisational growth, climate change communication, energy use and associated policy-making. By incorporating the expertise of the practical insights of practitioners and intermediary organisations, the project seeks to initiate a vigorous knowledge exchange about the conceptualisation and practical application of sustainable growth.

Methodology: Prior to engaging with SMEs, the team conducted a review of the literature on sustainable growth, which informed the engagement phase of the project. We also conducted a small survey of SME owners and managers and engaged in an informal consultation with stakeholders that informed the design and contents of the pilot workshops. Two half-day workshops were organised with SME owner and manager participants, facilitated by the communications specialists, Climate Outreach, and drawing on previous engagement projects with hard to reach groups. The workshops provided a forum for participants to engage in grounded, ‘peer to peer’ discussion about sustainable growth, expressed in their own terms and drawing on their own values and narratives. Audio recording of the workshops provided the basis for a thematic analysis, which has been combined with the other sources to construct this working paper.

Contribution: The project is generating new insights into SME perspectives on sustainable growth that are grounded in relevant theory and evidence, coupled with practical tools that will be of value to practitioners and policymakers. The project team has also developed audio-visual resources, which will be used to raise awareness and help to provide the foundations for future engagement activity. The aim of the next phase of the project is to further refine this approach to engagement in the form of a more fully developed ‘toolkit’ and associated resources.

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