Proto-Institutions, Sustainability and SMEs: A Systematic Literature Review

Aslam, Raees; Blundel, Richard and Wahga, Aqueel (2020). Proto-Institutions, Sustainability and SMEs: A Systematic Literature Review. In: The 42nd Annual Conference of the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 14-15 Nov 2019, New Castle, ISBE.



The aim is to systematically review the academic literature and provide an integrated summary of the debate around the role of institutions and intermediaries in advancing sustainable practices in SMEs.

This study had employed the systematic literature review method by developing transparent and unbiased strategies to search, evaluate, analyse and synthesise the data. Keywords strings using Boolean logic, truncation, wild card and proximity operators were used to search for studies in major databases; EBSCO, Emerald, JSTOR, SCOPUS, SAGE Journals, Science Direct, Wiley Online Library and Google Scholar, published until 2019. The returned studies were analysed on the basis of inclusion and exclusion criteria to ascertain their relevance, quality and credibility. Only 110 peer-reviewed and relevant studies were taken forward for in-depth analysis to extract themes. A theoretical framework is synthesised by combining different themes in a meaningful way that is followed by proposed areas for further investigations.

Findings & Contribution
Typically, SMEs face resource and capability constraints in adopting sustainable practices. In addition, the attitudes of business owners, managers and employees can create an obstacle to sustainable transformation. Economies have formal legislative and regulative institutions to advance environmental practices, but such institutions are either weak, ineffective or missing. Such institutional voids are filled in by intermediaries who assume a proto-institutional role by acting as supportive bodies. The review found that literature is populated around antecedents and barriers to the adoption of green practices in SMEs while making little references to intermediaries and their proto-institutional role. Most of the research is done on Europe, which signals a dearth of relevant research in the Asian context. The extant literature documents the role of informal institutions but, it lacks empirical evidence about the formation, growth, functioning and graduation of proto-institutional sponsors in the context of SMEs. The review recommends further qualitative and mixed methods-based inquiries into the role of (proto) institutions, environmental practices and SMEs in developing countries and industry-specific contexts. This study contributes by developing a framework around proto-institutions and their role in advancing environmental practices in SMEs. Also, it highlights future avenues for research.

Implications for policy & practice
The findings of this study can potentially impact SME policy, environmental policy, institutional policies and efforts for achieving SDGs. In terms of environmental management practices, the study not only highlights critical antecedents and barriers but also reflects the importance of collaborations between SMEs, stakeholders and policy practitioners in the pro-environmental transformation of SMEs.

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