Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility in Internationally Operating SMEs: Implications for Performance

  • Lasse Torkkeli
  • Sami Saarenketo
  • Hanna Salojärvi
  • Liisa-Maija Sainio


Concepts relating to corporate sustainability (CS) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) have remained vastly under-explored in international entrepreneurship literature. The recent reviews by Jones et al. (2011) and Peiris et al. (2012) do not find a single study of CSR and indicate that sustainability is discussed in the traditional sense of the word in the literature (i.e. referring to the competitive advantage of companies), rather than as social responsibility and sustainability in a more holistic sense. The latter refers to the ‘triple-bottom line’, i.e. business that is sustainable from the point of view of the firm – profit, of the society – people, and of the environment and ecology – planet (see Elkington 1997). Moreover, in the Journal of International Entrepreneurship, only one paper (Kirkwood and Walton 2010) has during this decade considered the role of sustainability-related practices in international entrepreneurship. That study explored ecopreneurs in New Zealand through a case study, but we still do not have a clear view on whether it is worthwhile for internationalizing SMEs to invest their time and resources to develop socially responsible and sustainable business practices for foreign markets, as extant research on these topics in the context of international business overall tends to focus on large multinational enterprises (MNEs) rather than on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (Jamali et al. 2009).


Corporate Social Responsibility Foreign Market International Performance Corporate Sustainability Corporate Social Responsibility Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Aragón-Correa, J. A., Hurtado-Torres, N., Sharma, S., & García-Morales, V. J. (2008). Environmental strategy and performance in small firms: A resource-based perspective. Journal of Environmental Management, 86(1), 88–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Biondi, V., Iraldo, F., & Meredith, S. (2002). Achieving sustainability through environmental innovation: The role of SMEs. International Journal of Technology Management, 24(5-6), 612–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Buciuniene, I., & Kazlauskaite, R. (2012). The linkage between HRM, CSR and performance outcomes. Baltic Journal of Management, 7(1), 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buckley, P. J. (1989). Foreign direct investment by small and medium sized enterprises: The theoretical background. Small Business Economics, 1(2), 89–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burpitt, W. J., & Rondinelli, D. A. (1998). Export decision-making in small firms: The role of organizational learning. Journal of World Business, 33(1), 51–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carter, C. R., Kale, R., & Grimm, C. M. (2000). Environmental purchasing and firm performance: An empirical investigation. Transportation Research Part E, 36(3), 219–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ciliberti, F., Pontrandolfo, P., & Scozzi, B. (2008). Investigating corporate social responsibility in supply chains: A SME perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 16(15), 1579–1588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coviello, N. E., & Munro, H. J. (1997). Network relationships and the internationalization process of small software firms. International Business Review, 6(4), 361–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dahlsrud, A. (2008). How corporate social responsibility is defined: An analysis of 37 definitions. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, 15(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Donaldson, T., & Preston, L. E. (1995). The stakeholder theory of the corporation: Concepts, evidence, and implications. Academy of Management Review, 20(1), 65–91.Google Scholar
  11. Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with forks. The triple bottom line of 21st century. Oxford: Capstone Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Freeman, R. E. (1984). Strategic management: A stakeholder approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Gelbmann, U. (2010). Establishing strategic CSR in SMEs: An Austrian CSR quality seal to substantiate the strategic CSR performance. Sustainable Development, 18(2), 90–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holme, R., & Watts, P. (1999). Corporate social responsibility. Geneva: World Business Council for Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
  15. Jahdi, K. S., & Acikdilli, G. (2009). Marketing communications and corporate social responsibility (CSR): Marriage of convenience or shotgun wedding? Journal of Business Ethics, 88(1), 103–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jamali, D., Zanhour, M., & Keshishian, T. (2009). Peculiar strengths and relational attributes of SMEs in the context of CSR. Journal of Business Ethics, 87(3), 355–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Johanson, J., & Mattsson, L.-G. (1988). Internationalisation in industrial systems – A network approach. In N. Hood & J.-E. Vahlne (Eds.), Strategies in global competition (pp. 214–287). New York: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  18. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, J.-E. (1977). The internationalization process of the firm: A model of knowledge development and increasing foreign market commitments. Journal of International Business Studies, 8(1), 23–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Johanson, J., & Vahlne, J.-E. (2009). The Uppsala internationalization process model revisited: From liability of foreignness to liability of outsidership. Journal of International Business Studies, 40, 1411–1431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jones, M. V., Coviello, N., & Tang, Y. K. (2011). International entrepreneurship research (1989–2009): A domain ontology and thematic analysis. Journal of Business Venturing, 26(6), 632–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kirkwood, J., & Walton, S. (2010). How ecopreneurs’ green values affect their international engagement in supply chain management. Journal of International Entrepreneurship, 8(2), 200–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Knight, G. A. (2001). Entrepreneurship and strategy in the international SME. Journal of International Management, 7(3), 155–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Knight, G. A., & Cavusgil, S. T. (2004). Innovation, organizational capabilities, and the born-global firm. Journal of International Business Studies, 35(2), 124–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Longo, M., Mura, M., & Bonoli, A. (2005). Corporate social responsibility and corporate performance: The case of Italian SMEs. Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 5(4), 28–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Maignan, I., & Ferrell, O. C. (2004). Corporate social responsibility and marketing: An integrative framework. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 32(1), 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martín-Tapia, I., Aragón-Correa, J. A., & Rueda-Manzanares, A. (2010). Environmental strategy and exports in medium, small and micro-enterprises. Journal of World Business, 45(3), 266–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meyer, K., & Skak, A. (2002). Networks, serendipity and SME entry into Eastern Europe. European Management Journal, 20(2), 179–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morsing, M., & Perrini, F. (2009). CSR in SMEs: Do SMEs matter for the CSR agenda? Business Ethics: A European Review, 18(1), 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Murillo, D., & Lozano, J. M. (2006). SMEs and CSR: An approach to CSR in their own words. Journal of Business Ethics, 67(3), 227–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Neely, A. D., Adams, C., & Kennerley, M. (2002). The performance prism: The scorecard for measuring and managing business success. London: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  31. Peiris, I. K., Akoorie, M. E., & Sinha, P. (2012). International entrepreneurship: A critical analysis of studies in the past two decades and future directions for research. Journal of International Entrepreneurship, 10(4), 279–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Perrini, F. (2006). SMEs and CSR theory: Evidence and implications from an Italian perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 67(3), 305–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Perrini, F., Russo, A., & Tencati, A. (2007). CSR strategies of SMEs and large firms, evidence from Italy. Journal of Business Ethics, 74(3), 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reuber, A. R., & Fischer, E. (1997). The influence of the management team’s international experience on the internationalization behaviours of SMEs. Journal of International Business Studies, 4, 807–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Revell, A., & Blackburn, R. (2007). The business case for sustainability? An examination of small firms in the UK’s construction and restaurant sectors. Business Strategy and the Environment, 16, 404–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rogelberg, S. G., & Stanton, J. M. (2007). Understanding and dealing with organizational survey nonresponse. Organizational Research Methods, 10(2), 195–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Torugsa, N. A., O’Donohue, W., & Hecker, R. (2012). Capabilities, proactive CSR and financial performance in SMEs: Empirical evidence from an Australian manufacturing industry sector. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(4), 483–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Turker, D. (2009). Measuring corporate social responsibility: A scale development study. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(4), 411–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zhou, L., Wu, W. P., & Luo, X. (2007). Internationalization and the performance of born-global SMEs: The mediating role of social networks. Journal of International Business Studies, 38(4), 673–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and the Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lasse Torkkeli
    • 1
  • Sami Saarenketo
    • 1
  • Hanna Salojärvi
    • 1
  • Liisa-Maija Sainio
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Business and ManagementLappeenranta University of TechnologyLappeenrantaFinland

Personalised recommendations