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«PROACTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGIES IN SMALL BUSINESSES: RESOURCES, INSTITUTIONS AND DYNAMIC CAPABILITIES Jan Lepoutre Promotor: Prof. Dr. Aimé Heene ...»

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Atherton, 2003). In response, small business owner-managers must “travel light” (Carson et al., 1995) – draw upon simple organizational structures with short

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communication lines within the firm and use their external network contacts to diminish their uncertainty (Covin & Slevin, 1989; Gibb, 2000; Atherton, 2003).

Again, how the firm responds to these uncertainties and complexities and how quickly, depends on the personality of the owner-manager. Carland et al. (1984), for example, distinguish between entrepreneurs – those that own a firm with the purpose of profit making, and small business owner-managers – those that have a firm to further their own goals. The latter firms are often referred to as ‘lifestyle’ firms or ‘craftsman’ firms, and are often described as more reactive, less progressive and less reliant on external and internal information processing. Merz and Sauber (1995), for example, found that the least proactive and entrepreneurial firms were often the smallest, with least engagement in collecting external or internal information, the shortest time horizons and impulsive owner-manager centered decision-making.

Besides particularities of small businesses to theory and practitioners alike, small businesses present idiosyncratic challenges to researchers as well. These challenges are reflected in the fact that, although small businesses constitute the larger part of firms in the economy, and generate over 60% of employment and total GDP in most economies (Observatory of European SMEs, 2003), there has been relatively less research done on small firms (Curran & Blackburn, 2001). Among other reasons, Curran and Blackburn attribute this

to the fact that small businesses present “a difficult area in which to conduct research” (2001:

5). In contrast to larger businesses, small businesses rarely have secondary material, reports and statistics available, which makes conducting quantitative studies more difficult. In addition, “one of the most difficult aspects of strategy research is collecting primary data from individual firms. This problem is often more difficult when working with small firms, since they are notorious for their inability and unwillingness to provide desired information” (Fiorito & Laforge, 1986: 10-11). In addition, the small businesses community is immensely diverse, which makes generalizations all the more difficult and inappropriate (d'Amboise & Muldowney, 1988; Curran & Blackburn, 2001): “in other words, there are no perfect, unchallengeable outcomes form research on SMEs (…). The test of quality of any research is the extent to which its conclusions can be generalized convincingly to any wider audience and especially to fellow researchers.” (Curran & Blackburn, 2001: 7). The many contributions in such specialized journals as Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Small Business Economics, International Journal of Small Business Management, the recent surge in publications on entrepreneurship and the new journal on entrepreneurship

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by the Strategic Management Society are proof that “small business” and “entrepreneurship” scholars are nevertheless engaging in this quality testing endeavor. It is my objective to participate in this process, in the first instance through this dissertation.

2.6. Conclusion With this chapter, my goal was to delineate the conceptual barriers of this dissertation.

Box 1 repeats the definitions of proactive environmental strategy and small business as they will be used throughout this dissertation. It is clear that these boundaries, albeit providing the useful limits and focus to facilitate research, comprise a substantial domain, with different views on what strategy, the natural environment and proactiveness constitutes. As such, it substantiates Mintzberg’s quote in the beginning of this chapter that research in such a domain, especially given the morality and interests that are woven in many of the arguments that are developed on the topic, is no easy task. Yet, with the definitions and concepts as provided in the analysis presented above, we can now proceed to description of what he have learned so far on proactive environmental strategies, where the research questions and gaps in the literature remain and especially those for which this dissertation will try to present some answers.

–  –  –

A proactive environmental strategy is the continuous process of resource building, selection and deployment for value creation and distribution, by navigating through and interacting with the structural and social conditions that influence their value, with the purpose to prevent negative effects, or create positive impacts on the natural environment, beyond what is legally required or accepted as standard practice.

A small business has

- fewer than 50 employees

- a turnover and/or balance sheet total that that does not exceed € 10 million

–  –  –

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3. Developing Research Questions: the State-of-the-Art on Proactive Environmental Strategies

3.1. Introduction

In order to position the contribution and research question of this dissertation, my goal in this chapter is to identify, by means of a general overview of the current knowledge on proactive environmental strategies, the most prevailing conclusions and research gaps in the literature. Metaphorically, this section presents my climbing on the proverbial “shoulders of giants”, and to subsequently stand on them to present my own findings and reflections. To this purpose, I benefited from two recent pieces that have summarized the “Organizations and the Natural Environment” (ONE) literature to date (Bansal & Gao, 2006; Etzion, 2007). Bansal and Gao’s paper was concerned mostly with the question in which top journals the ONE literature was published and how the natural environment was used: as context variable (“environmental context”), as mediator/moderator in determining organizational (financial) performance (“organizational outcomes”) or as dependent variable (“environmental outcomes”). Etzion’s paper, on the other hand, used three distinct viewpoints to review the ONE literature between 1992 and 2007: the level of the individual firm (its strategic and contingent attributes); the level of the industry (regulation, consumers and intra-industry dynamics) and the organizational environment (stakeholder influences and the institutional environment). Although both studies have provided helpful frameworks and viewpoints to structure the growing PES literature, I choose to organize my analysis around the two questions that have been dominating the field: “what determines whether an organization adopts a PES?” (antecedents), and “what are the effects of a having a PES to an organization?” (consequences).





Reviewing the growing of PES literature is a treacherous task as, similar to the semantic confusion in the entire domain of “corporate social responsibility” and “sustainable development” (Gladwin et al., 1995; Henderson, 2001; van Marrewijk, 2003; Perman et al., 2003), the literature has used a plethora of expressions to refer to PES. Terms such as “green strategy”, “environmental strategy” and “strategy and the natural environment” are but some of the possible alternative denominations used. In order to manage this variety and to disclose the choices I made in delineating the field, I used a systematic review process that has as its most important goal to be as transparent as possible about the followed methodology. Before presenting the actual literature review, the next section is therefore dedicated to a description of the research methods used in the literature review. I then continue with a descriptive report

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of the papers that were used in the literature review and subsequently describe the thematic findings on the antecedents and consequences of PES in the third and fourth section. I conclude this chapter with a discussion of the findings and a formulation of research questions.

3.2. Methods

In order to present a systematic review of the antecedents and consequences of PES, I followed the method of systematic literature reviews as developed by Tranfield (2003) and which was further refined by a number of articles in the International Journal of Management Reviews (e.g. Leseure, Bauer, Birdi, Neely, & Denyer, 2004; Thorpe, Holt, Macpherson, & Pittaway, 2005). The goal of this methodology is to use a “replicable, scientific and transparent process” (Tranfield, Denyer, & Smart, 2003: 209) that brings together “as many already existing (…) studies as possible that are relevant to the research being undertaken, irrespective of their published location, or even disciplinary background.” (Thorpe et al., 2005: 258), and provides “an audit trail of the reviewers decisions, procedures and conclusions” (Tranfield et al., 2003: 209). Figure 3.1 shows the several steps that were undertaken in this process.

Prior to the review, I defined as its objective “to systematically assess the antecedents and consequences of proactive environmental strategies as they are described in current literature”. I decided to focus only on articles that were published in the Web of Science (WoS), since this database coupled high quality with functionality and full article access to the most important and impactful journals in their respective fields. I then set out in a five stage study selection process as follows. First, I did three searches using “environmental strateg*”, “green strateg*” and “natural environment” + “strateg*” as key words. This process yielded 586 citations. I then used the WoS functionality that allows for selection on document type and excluded all book reviews, meeting abstracts, letters and news items. The combination of remaining articles, reviews, editorial materials and discussions yielded 551 articles. Finally, I used an additional WoS functionality that allows selecting papers based on subject areas. I retained all articles with key words “management”, “business”, “economics”, “ethics”, “sociology” and “social sciences – interdisciplinary”, to exclude papers with key words such as “marine & freshwater biology”, “genetics & heredity” or “oncology”. This selection process left a total of 126 articles.

Figure 3.1 - The systematic review process (based on Thorpe, 2005)

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The second stage attempted to address a bias in the generated database resulting from key word selection. Given the different nomenclatures used to refer to proactive environmental strategies, besides “environmental strategy”, “green strategy” or “strategy and the natural environment”, I expected the search to miss out on important articles. A quick scan of the remaining papers based on my prior knowledge of the field confirmed my expectation.

I therefore ranked the 126 articles based on the number of citations each article had received, to capture the most influential articles in the selection. Using the citation ranking, I then selected papers until the cumulative number of citations of the selected papers yielded at least 25% (390 citations) of the total citations to the 126 articles (1561 citations).

Table 3.1 shows these top cited articles and the selection process of 3 articles: Hart (1995), Walley and Whitehead (1994) and Sharma and Vredenburg (1998).

Subsequently, I selected all the papers that cited these three papers in a new selection, and applied the same document type and subject area exclusion criteria as in the first stage. This process yielded 303 articles.

–  –  –

In stage 3, I exported both searches to Reference Manager software and continued the selection process with 429 articles. After deleting all duplicates in the database, I set out in a process of screening all titles and abstracts for relevant and less relevant articles in stage 4.

Articles were considered less relevant if their topic was not related to the natural environment, dealt with technical aspects or did not have a business focus. Examples of titles that were excluded included “Public parks and the geography of fear”, “Antecedents and consequences of internet use in procurement: An empirical investigation of US manufacturing firms” and

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