Although research on corporate environmental sustainability has shed light on different aspects of organizational and individual level factors that influence corporate decisions, it does not fully account for how individual executives within firms react to these forces and make decisions, specifically within small to medium size enterprises (SMEs). This study used a grounded theory approach to interview 19 SME executives from 13 different industries to explore how organizational and individual level factors influence their ability to evaluate and make decisions related to sustainability initiatives. The study found that SME executives faced isomorphic pressures for sustainability, individual agency pressures, significant resource limitations including executive bandwidth, and cognitive influences and pitfalls for evaluating and executing sustainability initiatives. These findings were used to develop a proposed theoretical model of how different isomorphic pressures influence SMEs who are at different stages of adopting sustainability initiatives and the moderating roles of agency pressures, organizational resources, and cognitive barriers to sustainability. The results of this study can guide future theoretical research and help SME practitioners improve internal processes for evaluating and pursuing sustainability initiatives by providing best practices from firms who successfully integrated sustainability into their business.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Sustainability; Corporations--Environmental aspects; Sustainable development

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graziadio Business School



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Bobbi Thomason