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Adoption of “eco‐advantage” by SMEs: emerging opportunities and constraints

Lynn Oxborrow (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Clare Brindley (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 26 July 2013



A recent study has asserted that businesses need to adopt “eco‐advantage”. This paper aims to explore the viability of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) achieving “eco‐advantage” by exploring their understanding of sustainability issues, how they adopt and innovate in terms of sustainability and the benefits and obstacles they face.


The research approach is exploratory, comprised of 15 SME embedded cases based in the UK. The cases are participants in short interventions in sustainable product and process design as a part of a university knowledge transfer project, representing the overall case. Cases are based on interviews with company participants and collaborating academics, supplemented by documentary and observational evidence.


The results build on the work on “eco‐advantage” found in a recent study, highlighting marketing, rather than compliance issues as a catalyst for change. The newly aware SME enters a development process which involves cumulative capabilities, gaining a nascent inner confidence, which includes espousing wider sustainable values.

Research limitations/implications

The results reveal the scope and challenges for SMEs to adopt more sustainable practices, encompassing innovations and a broad set of capabilities. Further research points to the need to monitor benefits as well as inputs in evaluating sustainability improvements and to consider longitudinal business sustainability issues.


The paper informs the emerging debate on sustainability in SMEs, providing a rich source of data to enhance the provision of business support and knowledge transfer activities, where a more holistic and customised approach is required to realise the real environmental and economic benefits accrued from implementing sustainable improvements.



Oxborrow, L. and Brindley, C. (2013), "Adoption of “eco‐advantage” by SMEs: emerging opportunities and constraints", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 355-375.



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