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By Dror Etzion

Director, Centre for Strategy Studies

McGill University

The Role of SMEs in Driving Sustainable Development


Let Me Introduce You to This Topic...

What are SMEs?

Small- and Medium-Size Enterprises (SMEs) form the bedrock of the Canadian economy and society, yet, in the context of sustainable development and action to mitigate climate change, they have been overlooked in comparison with other groups such as citizens, large corporations and policymakers. Even though individual SMEs have a smaller impact than larger businesses or regulators, taken collectively, they hold a central position in our economy and society, employing around 90% of the private workforce in the country.


How do SMEs differ from large businesses, and what are the implications?

Compared to larger businesses, SMEs face unique challenges and opportunities that remain poorly understood. SMEs thus present distinct opportunities to drive meaningful change. For instance, while they are typically resource constrained, SMEs are also nimbler and thus better able to act entrepreneurially. In addition, unlike publicly traded companies, SMEs are privately owned and often guided by the value systems of their leaders. Whereas climate change will lead to unavoidable and at times devastating loss and damage, it will also create economic opportunities as the world reorganizes and pivots towards solutions. SMEs, as small and nimble organizations, are poised to adapt quickly and readily to this new business environment, developing new products, processes and services that will be both environmentally sustainable and economically viable.

Dror's Reading List

200 Million Tonnes of Opportunity

Climate Smart

BC-based Climate Smart presents the collective potential of Canadian SMEs to reduce their GHG emissions and contribute to climate action on a large scale, with case studies of actions taken by businesses.

B Corp Effect Podcast

Craig Ryan & Carla Heim

The Business Development Bank of Canada’s B Corp Certification for socially and environmentally driven businesses has a podcast series highlighting some inspiring stories of SME leaders and their actions around sustainability.


Small and medium‐sized enterprises and sustainability: Managers' values and engagement with environmental and climate change issues

Sarah Williams & Anja Schaefer

This study suggests that public policy and business advice should focus on personal values and beliefs, rather than financial.

Ecopreneurs Success Stories

Various Authors

Canadian entrepreneurs in different sectors are succeeding in growing businesses that build a cleaner economy.

About the Author

Dror Etzion is an associate professor of strategy and organizations at the Desautels Faculty of Management, and an associate member of the McGill School of Environment. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Strategy Studies in Organizations, a Senior Editor at Organization Studies, and the VP Finance at the McGill Association of University Teachers. Dror's current research program focuses on “grand challenges”: the unyielding, intractable problems that characterize the Anthropocene. His work suggests that managing for sustainability through local, open, emergent initiatives increases the recruitment of diverse stakeholders, fosters creativity, and yields impactful outcomes.

Dror actively co-leads a McGill wide interdisciplinary research theme on Sustainability Transitions with Professors Jaye Ellis (Law) and Catherine Potvin (Biology). This theme is collaborating with the National Film Board to develop an online multimedia platform to build a community of SMEs engaged in climate action.

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