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Sustainability in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: A Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Agenda

Adelaide Martins, Manuel Branco, Pedro Novo Melo and Carolina Machado
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Adelaide Martins: Faculty of Economics, University of Porto, Center for Economics and Finance (CEF-UP), 4200-464 Porto, Portugal
Pedro Novo Melo: School of Technical Short Cycles, Polytechnic Institute of Cávado and Ave, and Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA.UMinho), 4750-810 Barcelos, Portugal
Carolina Machado: School of Economics and Management, University of Minho, and Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA.UMinho), 4710-057 Braga, Portugal

Sustainability, 2022, vol. 14, issue 11, 1-26

Abstract: Main aim: This paper examines the main topics of research in the literature studying the topic of sustainability in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), and aims at presenting a future research agenda. Method: We conducted a systematic literature review based on articles published between 2000 and 2020. From an initial set of 88 papers taken from WoS in the period under analysis, 42 papers were effectively analyzed. Main results: The results of an in-depth reading reveal four clusters representing the main topics of research in the field: sustainability and SMEs’ performance; green and environmental management issues; social and cultural issues and their impact on sustainability policies; values, skills, and capabilities. Key findings suggest that the following angles of research appear to be underexplored: theoretically grounded research; research using large samples; articles examining sustainability reporting; research looking into non-manufacturing sectors; work examining settings in developing countries; research undertaking international comparisons; articles exploring the complementarity between the literature on sustainability in SMEs and on family-owned businesses; and the influence of the social and cultural context on SMEs’ engagement with sustainability. Main contribution: This paper offers insights to academia, practitioners, and policy makers to help SMEs engaging with sustainability and may assist also the latter to develop strategies to improve SMEs’ social and environmental reporting. Given the current pandemic crisis, and the urgency for sustainable business practices, we expect to contribute to expanding knowledge in this field of research.

Keywords: small and medium-sized enterprises; sustainability; systematic literature review (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O13 Q Q0 Q2 Q3 Q5 Q56 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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