Understanding and Communicating Climate Change in the Business Sector. Enabling Meaningful, Profitable and Sustainable Engagement in Cornish SMEs to Innovate the Low Carbon Economy
Date: 7 November 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Geography
The risks and opportunities that climate change presents for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) have been largely overlooked by previous research (Schaefer et al. 2011, Williams & Schaefer 2013). The subsequent lack of knowledge in this field makes a meaningful, profitable and sustainable engagement of SMEs with climate change ...
The risks and opportunities that climate change presents for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) have been largely overlooked by previous research (Schaefer et al. 2011, Williams & Schaefer 2013). The subsequent lack of knowledge in this field makes a meaningful, profitable and sustainable engagement of SMEs with climate change challenging. Current research has difficulty explaining (1) why SMEs rarely engage with climate change (2) how climate change is currently communicated to SMEs and (3) how SMEs overcome the knowledge gap between business practice and climate change science (cf. Hoffman 2004, 2006, Hart 2007, Goodall 2008). In this thesis I critically examine 31 SMEs which engage with climate change knowledges, 5 Innovation-Support-Organizations (ISOs) which communicate climate change knowledges and 2 business-led communities of practice that discuss climate change-related business practices. Over a three-year period, I explore why and how business leaders approach the knowledge gap between climate change science and business practice, drawing on a variety of ethnographic research methods: (1) in-depth semi-structured and open interviews; (2) participant observations; (3) practitioner’s workshops; and (4) an online survey. My research demonstrates that the participating ISOs communicate climate change in an overly simplistic way. The participating ISOs focus on persuading business leaders to engage with climate change. The participating business leaders who hear this persuasive message are already willing to engage with climate change. Their motivations to engage are lay-knowledge-dependent, derived from personal values, space and place identity. What the participating business leaders require is practical advice on how to mitigate the impact of, and adapt to, climate change, and they therefore try to overcome the limitations of current climate change communication through forming and joining communities of practice. By doing this, they can make sense of climate change in specialist niche communities and benefit from social belief systems. To enhance the number of SMEs engaging with climate change, I recommend that the participating ISOs target the personal values of business leaders and actively use these specialist niche communities niches within which the participating business leaders develop business practice to learn about climate change-related business practices themselves. Overall, my PhD shows that to create meaningful, profitable and sustainable engagement with climate change, business leaders and ISOs, as well as governments and society, need to address their ‘confusion and anxiety about the goals, ambitions and destinies [they] foresee’ for themselves (Hulme 2013: 298).
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