An Exploratory Examination of SMEs in Germany: Sustainability and Responsibility Engagement of ‘Mittelstand’ Firms in Baden-Württemberg
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AbstractThis thesis contributes to a field of scholarly research that seems to be receiving increasing attention, especially in recent times, although one has to acknowledge that there is still a severe lack of understanding. It is generally believed that the vast majority of research is still focused on large corporations, given their visibility and individual impact on the society, and this is particularly true in the re-search on sustainability and responsibility. In the course of this work, an extensive review of the relevant literature was conducted, including a holistic systematic analysis of a sample of leading small business and entrepreneurship journals, fol-lowed by an in-depth, narrative review based on a much broader selection of articles from various sources. The review revealed that there is little research on sustainability and responsibility in SMEs in Germany and that the vast majority of this research is quantitative in nature. The aim of this research is to, thus, develop an in-depth understanding of the sustainability and responsibility engagement of manufacturing SMEs in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg and, hence, also present and analyse the views of the participants in this research. Manufacturing SMEs were selected as the focal sample as the sector is very important to the regional community and it can be assumed that, given the nature of their operations, they are in some ways engaged in sustainability activities. For this reason, an interview-study with 30 participants from the SME sector was conducted, underpinned by an interpretive research paradigm. The interviewees included owner-managers (OMs) and managing directors (MDs) from a purposively created sample of SMEs. It must be noted that the focus is not on addressing some CSR role models, but on the ‘ordinary’ SME in-stead. The findings of this research are multifaceted. It was found that many SMEs in the sample tend to follow an extreme, long-term perspective based on a special ethos or values, such as fairness, honesty and trust. There seems to be a consider-able reservation towards the business principles of large corporations. The re-search provides an in-depth discussion on various sustainability dimensions identified in the data. This includes embeddedness in the local community, which varies considerably between the participating firms; focus on employees, which tendsto be seen as the most important resource, and caring for them is for most participants an essential point; and engagement in environmental issues, which tends to be of lower importance for participants except in the case of practices that directly lead to positive economic results. Overall, the research identifies that economic considerations dominate the worldview of participants. However, firms are not considered instruments of short-term profits; instead, natural, long-term development of firms is the overall goal. The research additionally finds that some SMEs in the sample are motivated to find a balance between informal and formal management approaches. In total, one can conclude that the behaviour of SMEs can-not be directly considered to be related to the principles of sustainable development. However, the sample firms and their behaviour are definitely closer to a responsible way of doing business in comparison to many large corporations which also tend to affect many SMEs negatively through their market power and price pressure. This research provides an insight into the world of (owner)-managers of SMEs, thus contributing to a field that is currently dominated by descriptive quantitative research in Germany.
CitationKraus, P. (2015). An exploratory examination of SMEs in Germany: sustainability and responsibility engagement of ‘Mittelstand’ firms in Baden-Württemberg (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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