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Eco-innovation in rural family SMEs (Advert Reference: SF21/BL/EIS/BURTON)

   Faculty of Business and Law

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Eco innovation is conceived as enterprising pro-environmental behaviours (McKeiver and Gadenne, 2005), which involve changing business processes to reduce waste and decrease the consumption of raw materials.

Environmental concerns for innovation are becoming more and more common as firms are more aware of the consequences of their activities and attempt to be socially responsible (Diaz-Garcia, et al., 2015). These environmental concerns for innovation are driven either by external pressures such as stricter governmental regulation and stakeholders or by the recognition that it can lead to a competitive advantage and increased performance through cost reduction and/or improved reputation. Furthermore, there is evidence that environmental innovations do not undermine economic performance, neither in the short run nor in the context of the global financial crisis (Cainelli, Mazzanti, & Zoboli, 2011). Therefore, there is a growing importance of eco-innovation for research and policy in order to make better use of natural resources and reduce the ecological footprint

Business – and in particular, small business – is predicted not only to deliver this agenda but also to create jobs and wealth in the process of safeguarding “precious and traditional rural locations (Martin, et al., 2013)” Despite these expectations from small firms, there has been a lack of attention to this in the small business research literature (Kirkwood and Walton, 2010). While many studies report the intentions of the owners to implement pro-environmental practice, few identify how and why SMEs are actually doing so, especially in rural areas (Grande et al., 2011McKeiver and Gadenne, 2005).  The challenges for SMEs to “go green” are heavily dependent on individual values (Blundell et al., 2020) since the legislation to enforce environmental standards is mostly applied to larger organisations. As net zero goals are expected to drive new paradigms of innovation and sustainable growth, rural firms are already demonstrating greater awareness of environmental issues (Phillipson et al., 2019), but this is not yet reflected in metrics of economic performance for rural regions.

The aim of the PhD study is to contribute to a number of research and policy objectives. Contributing to the INCITE research centre ‘place’ and ‘innovation’ agendas, and informing policy debates such as Build Back Better, the PhD seeks to: (1) build on earlier work by establishing what form eco-innovations take in the rural economy (McKeiver and Gadenne, 2005); (2) as part of an ongoing need to understand the nature of rurality, to examine owner-managers’ perceptions of their rural location and how this interacts with their moral reasoning to see how this contributes to the development of eco innovation (Bresser et al., 2006Clark, 2009); and, (3) to explore reasons for eco innovation implementation and owners’ perceptions of how eco innovation contributes to firm growth/survival (Hansen and Hamilton, 2011Morano and Casillas, 2007).

This project is supervised by Dr N Burton.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·       Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the

advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF21/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Open

Start Date: March 2022 or October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Please note this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend.


Blundell, R., Williams, S. and Schaefer, A. (2020) Individual Values and SME Environmental Engagement. Business and Society 59(4) 642-675.
Phillipson, J., Tiwasing, P., Gorton, M., Maioli, S., Newbery, R., & Turner, R. (2019). Shining a spotlight on small rural businesses: How does their performance compare with urban? Journal of Rural Studies, 68, 230-239.

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