Implementing Environmentally Sustainable Practices at Small and Medium Enterprises

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North Carolina is challenged to foster economic development while protecting environmental assets under regulatory and legislative mandate. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the major economic drivers in North Carolina, and in the United States as a whole, but existing support networks for small emterprises looking to pursue sustainable practices are insufficient. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to ensure that its regulations do not unreasonably burden SMEs. The EPA is investigating ways that it can assist SMEs that are voluntarily trying to improve their environmental stewardship, specifically looking at the feasibility and appropriateness of using environmental management systems (EMSs) and peer-to-peer mentoring to help small businesses address their corporate practices. This report provides the results of the first phase of work for the EPA. Analysis of qualitative data from SMEs in two North Carolina cities shows that barriers and motivations for sustainable behavior in small organizations are different than those for larger entities. Our analysis and recommendations for tools to help SMEs improve their environmental footprints were aided by identifying and analyzing the motivations that SMEs cite for implementing sustainable practices. SMEs need a simple and flexible framework for developing and implementing EMSs. Introducing SMEs to the newly-developed “EMS Guide for SME” tool may help smaller enterprises at different level of EMS potential incorporate an informal environmental management system into their daily business operations. The EMS Guide for SME separates SMEs into three categories based on their EMS development potential and provides specific guidance for entities across the potential range. This will help organizations customize their environmental analysis and procedures to fit their capabilities, as well as identify areas for future development and continuous improvement. Mentoring is another feasible and appropriate strategy to help SMEs achieve sustainability goals. Based on comments from respondents and literature review, initial recommendations for the structure of a mentoring program were developed. These recommendations will be incorporated into the next phase of the EPA research – establishing a peer-to-peer network in North Carolina for small businesses interested in sustainability.





Friedlander, Minna, Vanessa Meer and Sona Stenclova (2010). Implementing Environmentally Sustainable Practices at Small and Medium Enterprises. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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