Conway Energy, Sustainability and Society (2015) 5:32 DOI 10.1186/s13705-015-0060-x
Engaging small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the low carbon agenda Elaine Conway
Abstract Background: Often perceived as a key step towards reducing the ecological impacts of business, interest in carbon management has grown in recent years. Most studies into carbon management have concentrated on large firms. This study assesses the current level of engagement by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) situated in Derbyshire, UK, in carbon management and determines their perceived barriers to (further) adoption of such activities. Methods: A questionnaire was sent to SMEs in Derbyshire to determine their engagement in four low carbon activity areas and their perceived barriers to (greater) adoption of such initiatives. Results: One hundred forty-one respondents across 64 different Standard Industry Classification (SIC) codes were obtained. Whilst the majority has taken steps to reduce their carbon impact, most do not monitor or set targets for managing carbon usage. Very few choose to publicise their activities, despite some successful results. Respondents cited resource constraints and a lack of relevance to the business as the most common barriers to low carbon engagement. Many are keen to adopt further measures but require targeted support to do so. Conclusions: SMEs are prepared to engage with low carbon agenda, given appropriate support. This paper helps to fill a gap in the literature on SME engagement with low carbon initiatives. It demonstrates both the current areas of engagement and the perceived barriers to further engagement. These findings could inform policy makers in directing support to SMEs to reduce their ecological impacts. Keywords: SMEs; Low carbon; Environmental management; Carbon management
Background Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) represent the dominant form of business organisation globally. Within Europe, they represent more than 97 % of businesses and more than 67 % of employment; of these, 92 % of businesses fitted the definition of micro enterprises, employing less than 10 people . In the UK, in 2013/4, 99 % of the 4.9 million private sector businesses in the country were SMEs, providing 60 % of private sector jobs . Small and medium-sized businesses are defined in various ways due to their diversity although a very commonly adopted definition is from the European Commission  which sets out the following and which is the definition used in this study: (Table 1).
Correspondence: [email protected]
Derby Business School, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby DE22 1GB, UK
With their level of impact on the business and social environment, it would be remiss to discount the work SMEs do and the potential they have for employment and economic growth [4–6]. Jenkins and Gibb assert that most attempts to engage SMEs in the low carbon economy or in wider corporate social responsibility activities fail because of a misunderstanding of their specific needs both in policy setting and in implementation [7, 8]. This exploratory study assesses the level of engagement of SMEs in the Derbyshire county and Derby City boundaries in the low-carbon economy. Much work has been done with larger ‘exemplar’ companies and with SMEs in the broader context of corporate social responsibility (CSR) [9–11]. However, there is a relative lack of academic research focusing specifically on SMEs and low carbon activities [5, 10]. This paper also highlights any perceived barriers to adopting low carbon business practices in the smaller
© 2015 Conway. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Conway Energy, Sustainability and Society (2015) 5:32
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Table 1 Adapted from the European commission  Company category
Turnover or balance sheet total