Sustainability management in small and medium-sized enterprises of the food manufacturing sector
Multiple crises make the need for sustainable transformation more pressing than ever. Such a transformation concerns the environment, society and economy and other diverse stakeholders ranging from individual perspectives to enterprises, governments and global associations. Food is a crucial sector with a major impact on the environment and ... society, and plays an important role in that transformation. While some and increasing attention has been paid to the very first stage of the food supply chain, the agricultural stage, the next stage of food manufacturing has largely been neglected. Although more than half of the turnover of the sector is made by multinational enterprises, the sector is dominated by the number of small and medium-sized companies. This group of small and medium-sized enterprises possesses individual and unique characteristics in comparison to larger firms. Little attention has been paid to that topic in research so far and there is evidence to suggest that food manufacturing SMEs need support in their sustainable development. The aim of this thesis is the investigation of sustainability management in food manufacturing SMEs. To this end, three successive research steps were carried out. First, seven existing frameworks were analysed regarding their suitability for the food manufacturing stage. The explorative approach compares the frameworks’ content as well as their supply chain connectivity, finding that none of the frameworks suits a food manufacturer perfectly. Furthermore, a Delphi study was conducted with experts from the food sector and/or from the field of sustainability management, exploring probabilities of scenarios of sustainability management (assessment, certification and communication) in food manufacturing SMEs. Finally, a sustainability management tool was developed and evaluated through expert interviews. This novel approach combines many of the important aspects from the preceding research. The outcome is a procedure including self-assessment of the enterprise, a minimum standard containing eight basic sustainability requirements, a supportive consultancy talk for the company’s sustainable development, and a guided goal-setting process in order to find annual goals for the food manufacturing SMEs in the spirit of continuous improvement. Overall, this research highlights important aspects of sustainability management, both for food manufacturing SMEs but also for SMEs in general. While food sector requirements concern specific content, an holistic approach to sustainability, integration of both assessment and reporting elements and connectivity to the up- and downstream supply chain, SMEs‘ characteristics require transparency, a realistic framework regarding cost-benefit balance, simplicity and visible benefits. Furthermore, important aspects concerning the application of a sustainability management tool are personality/motivation of the owner-manager or person in charge, incentives, permeation/identification in the company, resources, management/documentation, support and communication. The thesis demonstrates that a “one-size fit” sustainability management tool for all SMEs is hard or even impossible to develop. However, if the aspects mentioned above are taken into consideration in a balanced way, if further research on that topic is conducted, and if supportive policy is strengthened, the application of sustainability management in food manufacturing SMEs has the potential to improve sustainable development of single enterprises, and consequently the overall agri-food sector.