University of Winchester research maps sustainable practice in small businesses

Highlights from a research project into leadership and sustainability in small and medium-sized businesses were revealed during an event at the University of Winchester last month.

The year-long project, titled Leadership in transition to sustainable business: a study of SMEs in South East England, was run by Winchester Business School and funded by the British Academy of Management. The aims were to find successful business models that could be shared in the community and develop policies to support SMEs to become more sustainable.

Dr Elina Meliou, University of Winchester, and Dr Natalia Yakovleva, University of Surrey, visited SMEs with a reputation for exemplary work on environmental and corporate social responsibility matters. They interviewed leaders, observed work and examined company documents to see how sustainability was integrated within their business model.

The University bought together regional business leaders, academics and policy makers to showcase the research findings. One of the major outcomes from the study was the development of a sustainable business continuum.

“This continuum has allowed us to map how leaders make sense of their prior and current wider engagement with sustainability, within and outside the firm,” explained Dr Elina Meliou, Principle Investigator on the project and Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Management at the University of Winchester. “This approach offers an alternative empirical examination to leadership and sustainable entrepreneurship research by moving beyond simple contingency explanations. We can further understand the relationship between social contexts and actions by exploring these insights from substantive events and experiences.”

Last month’s event concluded by highlighting key recommendations for enhancing sustainable and responsible practice in SMEs. A report is now being drafted for policy bodies and business associations with a summary of these ideas.

Dr Meliou added: “The University of Winchester values sustainability and actively promotes knowledge exchange with the community. This project allowed us to connect our intellectual resources with the knowledge and experience of local businesses and community groups to address issues of mutual interest, such as sustainable and responsible management.”

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