Date of Award

Winter 2012

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael J Merenda


Dependence upon the natural environment is redefining the business relationship between ecological, economic, and social systems. In addition, the major market forces of diminishing natural resources, extreme transparency, and increasing social expectations are reshaping a new sustainability path for companies. This empirical investigation explored the phenomenon of sustainability in small to mid-sized enterprises, focusing on the link between innovation and ecological sustainability. In addressing the research questions, an Eco-Sustainability Conceptual Framework was developed and applied to a sample of small to mid-sized enterprises. In addition, the development and use of an Eco-Scorecard helped to identify key performance indicators for measuring the extent to which companies are sustainable enterprises. Testing the compatibility of the Eco-Sustainability Conceptual Framework and Eco-Scorecard occurred through semi-structured interviews conducted at five small to mid-sized enterprises, which allowed participants to identify strengths and weaknesses in terms of the company's progress toward ecological sustainability.

Overall, key conclusions revealed sustainability is best approached in a multidisciplinary manner and is a long-term process, as observed in the companies. The Eco-Sustainability Conceptual Framework and Eco-Scorecard blended the natural and social (management) sciences together as a diagnostic tool in showing the significance of small to mid-sized enterprises in implementing sustainable manufacturing processes, products, and services. Based on the case studies, it was possible to track how companies use innovation along the path to ecological sustainability. Small to mid-sized enterprises are an integral part of the ecology of a local community and how they use innovation for sustainability is important to their local community and to other stakeholders. In addition, privately owned firms have an advantage on their path to ecological sustainability because they are better able to balance short-term demands with longer term planning horizons. Although bottom-line profitability is emphasized, environmental and social systems need to be in balance. In addition, based on a small to mid-sized enterprise's sustainability success, global companies are targeting them as acquisitions. Lastly, all the researched firms are identifying and implementing new sustainable processes and products as solutions for their larger company customers in helping them problem-solve sustainability challenges.