The Application and Implementation of Integrative Sustainability within Swedish SMEs - a Practical Perspective
Abstract: In light of a stronger recognition of the need for sustainable business practices as “business as usual” no longer presents itself as a viable option, this study aims to cast light on the current work of Swedish SMEs with integrative sustainability. Within the academic field of sustainability in business, the latest years have seen the emergence of multiple frameworks that promote a holistic sustainability approach to conducting business. The single firm becomes a connecting member of an extensive stakeholder network and by operating in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner, the business seeks to create value for a variety of stakeholder groups, rather than focusing on monetary objectives set by shareholders. These new integrative frameworks shift the understanding of a firm from a profit-maximiser to that of a value-creator that acts sustainably to cater to the needs of all its stakeholders. However, as the models have only recently featured across academia, their real-life applicability and viability are contested, and in some ways, remains under-researched, particularly in the context of SMEs. With Sweden as a leading example in sustainability implementation, this study attempts to provide insight into how SMEs work with the elements of these frameworks and which opportunities and challenges they encounter during implementation. Through conducting detailed, qualitative and personal semi-structured interviews with the CEOs of six sustainability-minded Swedish SMEs of different industrial backgrounds, this research gauges the current organisational efforts being made in terms of sustainability and relates them to the integrative value-creating frameworks to identify congruences, divergences and room for improvement in line with latest theories. The main conclusions drawn as part of this process include the continued, at least partial, unfamiliarity of businesses with the frameworks, despite a large degree of compatibility of current practical efforts and existing academic theory. Value creation is moving closer to being included in the core of the business model, yet while absolute profit maximisation receives less attention, hesitation towards implementing sustainability more integratively is driven by concerns of losing grounds for profitability. The establishment of clusters and strong relationships leading to mutual synergies is found as a potential way to provide firms with the structural support to shift fully towards value-creation as envisioned by the investigated frameworks.
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