Strategic corporate sustainability: Pressures and barriers to integration in Danish SMEs

Lisa Gram Bentsen & Flemming Kozok Sørensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis takes its point of departure in the emergent, contemporary sustainability discourse. It focuses on the external pressures and intra-organizational barriers challenging Danish SMEs in relation to integration of strategic corporate sustainability (SCS). Our definition of SCS emphasizes integration in support of core competences and the triple bottom line with broad commitment to sustainability across the organization. With the support of a theoretical framework, which encompasses core aspects of new institutional theory and sensemaking, the focus areas and integration of SCS in Danish SMEs is explored. This exploration, as well as exemplification of the commitment process, is achieved particularly via the ‘surveying’ of expert consultancies with focus provided by the research question: For Danish SMEs, what are the external pressures for SCS and which intra-organizational barriers challenge the integration of SCS - and how can these barriers be addressed? SMEs are facing particularly normative and coercive external pressures to integrate SCS. Academics are increasingly advocating for a corporate sustainability practice resembling SCS. It is proposed as a practice, which companies should and can employ. In addition, the regulative environment and contemporary practice is increasingly forcing the issue, shifting towards a more explicit commitment to corporate sustainability. Processual, structural, and cognitive barriers are identified. The cognitive barrier is most significant, as the ‘resource myth’ and other apologetics prevail. SMEs may, even if adopting an increasingly positive stance towards the concept, perceive it as ill-translated into relatable and applicable terms. Subject to barriers, SCS faces the risk of decoupling. Finally, it is proposed that the commitment process can be influenced to increase the probability for SCS integration, facilitating a competitive, structured and systematic approach to sustainability. Providing a strategic lens, which illuminates the commitment process towards SCS, sensemaking is introduced as a framework to identify techniques and activities to overcome barriers. The practical approaches set forth in this thesis are argued to support awareness, relevance, participation, ownership & commitment. These identified ‘objectives’ are concluded to be important for ‘improving sensemaking’ of SCS in Danish SMEs, helping SMEs address the barriers and become better equipped to avoid risks of decoupling. As SMEs 1) are externally pressured for SCS, 2) are internally facing particularly cognitive barriers, and 3) may overcome the barriers by ‘improving sensemaking’, areas for further research are suggested, in part owing to the novel nature of the theoretical framework.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages127