Intermediaries Driving Eco-Innovation in SMEs: A Qualitative Investigation
European Journal of Innovation Management, 15(4)
29 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2012 Last revised: 20 May 2014
Date Written: 2012
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to identify the role intermediaries can play in an SME’s pursuit for corporate sustainability with a focus on eco-innovation. The research identifies drivers and barriers for eco-innovation, and highlights effects induced through collaboration between SMEs and local authorities, on the one hand, and consultancies, on the other.
Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based on an exploratory qualitative interview study among German SMEs of the metal and mechanical engineering industry that have participated in the “Ecoprofit” program, an intermediary-based program that aims at introducing organizations to the concept of sustainable development through implementation of eco-innovations.
Findings: Our key findings are that first, the proactive approach by a public intermediary (here local authority) is one essential push factor to trigger eco-innovations in SMEs with low absorptive capacity. Second, we find that SMEs may need facilitation for eco-innovation from different types of intermediaries (public and private) with different levels of support, which can range from customized and individual to more loosely held support, such as networks.
Originality/value: Our study discusses the challenges of corporate sustainability with a focus on eco- innovations for SMEs and proposes a ‘complex intermediary’ consisting of a local authority and consultancies as one means to engage SMEs in sustainability. Moreover, it focuses on SMEs in the B2B context, organizations that are often overlooked despite their vast impact. Furthermore, by using a single industry approach, in-depth findings for the metal and mechanical engineering industry are presented.
Keywords: eco-efficiency, eco-innovation, sustainability-oriented innovation, absorptive capacity, learning networks, inter-organizational learning, public private partnerships, intermediaries, knowledge transfer, small and medium-sized enterprises
JEL Classification: Q31, Q32, M11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation