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Growing Greener: Creating a New Values-based Environmental Engagement Toolkit for SME Intermediaries

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An ESRC Impact Acceleration Account project

This project combines leading-edge research on SME growth processes and environmental behaviours with practitioner expertise in SME engagement and climate change communication. Its primary aim is to help SMEs and intermediaries gain a better understanding of sustainable growth and its implications for their businesses.

Project outline

To meet the sustainability challenge, Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will need to make significant, and in some cases radical, changes to their day-to-day operational practices and also to their longer-term trajectories. Smaller organisations, in particular, face a variety of barriers, which often slow the pace of change and, in some instances, block important technological and social innovations. Intermediaries such as professional associations, business advisors and economic development organisations can help SMEs make the transition towards a more environmentally sustainable, low carbon society. The primary aim of this project is to develop practical tools and approaches that support SMEs and intermediaries in their efforts to achieve this goal.

Phase one: engaging SME owners and managers (2017-18)

In the first phase, we competed an ESRC IAA ‘Kickstarting Impact’ project, ‘Growing Green: SME perspectives on sustainable growth in a low carbon economy’.  This project drew on the team’s multi-disciplinary research expertise to pilot an innovative values-based approach to engaging SME owners and managers in workshop-based conversations about climate change and other environmental issues.

We completed a literature review and conducted a short questionnaire survey, the ‘Oxfordshire Sustainable Growth Survey 2017’, which helped to inform the workshop design. This was followed by two in-depth workshops, facilitated by Chris Shaw. We also organised a webinar, hosted by Climate Outreach, and presented the initial findings to audiences of academics and policymakers in the UK, France and Sweden.

These were summarised in a research paper, which we presented at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference in Belfast in November 2017, and a short-form video, in which workshop participants discuss their experiences. A second video asset from the pilot, featuring our University of Oxford partner, Sam Hampton, was incorporated into  a learning activity in a new undergraduate module, B327 Creating Futures: Sustainable Enterprise and Innovation.

Phase two: working with business advisors (2018-19)

Having demonstrated the potential of a values-based approach, the team secured ESRC Impact Acceleration Award (IAA) funding for a larger follow-on project, 'Growing Greener: Creating a New Values-based Environmental Engagement Toolkit for SME Intermediaries'.

One Central Park Sydney. Architect: Jean Nouvel.We built on the findings of the pilot project, refined the original engagement model and worked with several groups of business advisors to co-create a new online course, practical  toolkit and accompanying resources for anyone working on these issues with – or within – organisations. Our aim is to broaden the scope and flexibility of the values-based approach, so that it can be used in a variety of scenarios  to promote more environmentally-sustainable practices.

This phase of the project has included a series of consultative workshops with business advisors from around Birmingham, Manchester, Oxfordshire, Kent and Essex. Whave also organised an ESRC Festival of Social Science workshop in Islington, North London, November 2018, and a webinar to mark the launch of the new five-hour online course, which is hosted on The Open University’s OpenLearn Create platform.

The new course, Promoting sustainability in business: a values-based toolkit is now available to view on OpenLearn.

To find out more about the 'Growing Greener' project, or other work related to sustainability and enterprise, please contact: Professor Richard Blundel


Webinar: SMEs and Climate Change – the Communication Challenge

Small and medium-sized enterprises face many competing pressures – so how can we encourage owners and managers to engage with the issue, and re-position their businesses for a lower carbon future? Watch a recording of this lunchtime webinar for practical advice on communicating more effectively with (and within) SMEs using a proven, values-based approach, plus a brief overview of our new, free-to-use, online course, Promoting sustainability in business: a values-based toolkit. The session is led by Chris Shaw from Climate Outreach, Europe’s leading specialists in climate change communication.

  • Chris Shaw, Senior Researcher, Climate Outreach
  • Sam Hampton, Low Carbon Advisor OxLEP and Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
  • Tina Fawcett, Senior Researcher, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
  • Richard Blundel, Professor of Enterprise and Organisation, The Open University Business School

To view the webinar,  please visit the event page.

Project videos

Workshop participants discuss their experiences

Video recording by Mike Lord, Blue Lotus Media.

Sam Hampton reviews the challenges and opportunities for SMEs

This video is featured in a new undergraduate module from The Open University, B327 Creating Futures: Sustainable Enterprise and Innovation.

Project team

Prof Richard Blundel, Professor of Enterprise and Organisation at The Open University and an Honorary Fellow of the ESRC Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), University of Surrey.

Dr Tina Fawcett, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford and Theme Lead / Co-Director, Policy and Governance, at the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS).

Dr Sam Hampton, Network Navigator for Business Resource Efficiency at Oxfordshire Business Support and a Research Associate at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

Dr Chris Shaw,Senior Researcher at Climate Outreach, Associate of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and is a member of the Visiting Faculty at the School of Business, Management and Economics at the University of Sussex.

Partner organisations

Climate Outreach are Europe’s leading climate change communicators, bridging the gap between research and practice. Their mission is to ensure that climate change and its impacts are understood, accepted and acted upon across the breadth of society, creating a truly sustainable future.

Oxfordshire Business Support (OBS) is the Growth Hub for Oxfordshire provided through the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP).

Advisory panel

Prof Fergus Lyon is Deputy Director of the ESRC Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) and Professor of Enterprise and Organisations in the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR), Middlesex University.

Dr Anja Schaefer is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Business at Maynooth University, Ireland and a Visiting Research Fellow at The Open University Business School.  She is an experienced researcher and educator, specialising in corporate sustainability and business ethics.

Dr Sarah Williams is an experienced business consultant and still work closely with regional businesses and members of Bedfordshire Green Business Network (GBN). She is also a university lecturer who has worked for The Open University for many years and is currently a Senior Lecturer based at the University of Bedfordshire.

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