Contemporary issues in entrepreneurship marketing: sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility

Sonny Nwankwo and Darlington Richards


After reading the chapter, you should be able to:

■ Develop an understanding of some of the potent contemporary issues (sustainability, ethics and social responsibility) confronting SMEs;

■ Develop an understanding of Entrepreneurship Marketing;

■ Understand how these might impact SMEs in their marketing operations;

■ Demonstrate an awareness of how these issues might be managed or integrated into marketing decision processes;

■ Understand that higher levels of sensitivity to sustainability, ethics and social responsibility values could contribute to marketing excellence and sustainable entrepreneurship.


Markets and market environments are changing; so are the operating market conditions in contemporary times. Today's operating market conditions, given their ever-growing level of turbulence and complexity, are likely to he profoundly impactful and strategically more demanding on SMEs than ever before. Regardless of the taxonomical complications relating to how SMEs may be classified and defined or the tensions and contradictions arising from efforts to resolves these, there is no escaping the stark reality that many SMEs (especially high-growth SMEs) are increasingly exposed to meta-marketing pressures which large organisations have had to grapple with for a long time. Essentially, a recourse to ‘smallness’ is no longer a sufficient base to presume that SMEs are insulated from the demands, expectations and obligations that might arise from the wider macromarketing interfaces. Paradoxically, much of what has been previously explained away as extra-competition pressures (e.g., environmentalism and ethics) are increasingly finding their ways into the mainstream strategic processes of companies and, accordingly, proving to be sources of competitive strengths (see the illustrative example in Box 21.1).

To further illustrate (Box 21.2), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak grew their company Apple from a value-base that was unconventional at the time, that is, the computer industry was revolutionised by Apple by making the technology smaller, cheaper, intuitive, and accessible to everyday customers (see Box 21.1), ( Editors, 2019).

It may well be that navigating the contemporary marketplace, in all of its diverse pressure points, may turn out to be more challenging for many SMEs than most entrepreneurs currently care to admit. Severe competition, industry capacity gluts, fragmented markets, globalisation, rapid technological innovation and diffusion, depressed margins and rising costs, global crises that provoke the images of the Great Depression or the biblical Armageddon, are putting many companies between the proverbial rock and a hard place. To compound matters, businesses will be severely challenged to demonstrate higher levels of sensitivity to a much wider battery of renascent societal issues (e.g., the impact of business on the environment, attitude towards promoting sustainable consumption, preserving the ecosystems, upholding the integrity of the marketplace and contributions to sustainable communities). For many SMEs, these are likely to pose ‘new marketing challenges’ to which they must not only respond but are required, as a matter of good business practice, proactively integrate into their strategic processes. More specifically, a growing number of companies will be looking to emphasise their commitment to social responsibility, ethics and sustainability values in an attempt to help differentiate themselves from their competitors and to enhance their brand and reputation (Jones et al. 2008; Lai et al. 2010; Wang et al. 2015).


As Kermit the Frog lamented,'it's not easy being green'. However, with scientists releasing increasingly alarming evidence pointing to rising sea levels, hotter summers, and the global community's escalating carbon footprint, 'being green' is frankly no longer good enough.

Eco-friendly standards that were hip and progressive in the 1980s and 90s now seem to barely scratch the surface of what's needed to shut down this greenhouse emissions time bomb. Instead, today's focus needs to be on sustainability, the idea of putting into place long-term, sustainable practices that will help alleviate further damage to the planet.

From a business perspective, sustainability shouldn't just be another progressive marketing strategy but a rallying cry that more and more companies, big and small, need to get behind if large-scale change is to be effective.

Not only are measures like LED lighting, ride-sharing initiatives and green data centres good for the environment as well as the health and well-being of your employees and local community, but the World Economic Forum sees parallels between eco-innovation and increases to a business' profit margins.

'Consumers, in general, prefer a sustainable business or product. Fortunately, there are plenty of businesses who took sustainability to a new level, and they [are] profiting from it tremendously. Almost all successful and profitable businesses have real sustainability measures in place, some have it even certified', Guido Bauer, the CEO of Green Globe, a Los Angeles-based company that provides sustainability certification for the travel and tourism industries in more than 80 countries, told me in an email. Bauer is one of the many eco-thought leaders I have long admired and have tried to emulate throughout my career as a high-tech entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, there are still many companies that have not yet taken sustainability seriously, according to Bauer,'as they are unaware of the advantages'. Others, especially small businesses, may shy away from implementing eco-measures in an effort to pinch pennies.

The way I see it, companies, no matter how small, can't afford not to be sustainable, particularly those like my web and app development shop that rely heavily on one of the world's biggest polluters - the internet. (A recent study from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that US data centres use around 70 billion kilowatt-hours annually.)

Bottom line: Sustainable business practices are your social responsibility and, if you stay within your means, not as costly as you might imagine.

Looking to Apple's massive new headquarters (compared, by Steve Jobs, to a spaceship) or Tesla's sprawling 5.5 million-square-foot Giga factory under development in the Nevada desert, both to be powered by solar energy, for inspiration will likely be disheartening if you don't have a couple of billion dollars to play around with.

Facebook's cool data centre 70 miles south of the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden may also not be within the parameters of your budget, but emulating these international giants, shouldn't be your endgame.

I recommend starting small: recycle your waste, use tap water instead of bottles, take advantage of natural light in office spaces. How many of these things do you already do? Now imagine if you were continuously thinking of new ways to expand your sustainability goals.

My development team, based in a BREEAM-certified office complex, actively recycles, uses tap water and glass kitchenware. We were awarded for our efforts, taking home both Office of the Year and Smart Office of the Year accolades. We were also nominated for Healthy Office of the Year.

These are all admirable achievements that certainly have our local business community and clients talking. But my first thought upon winning was: what can we be doing better? This is the type of thinking I believe will help take companies to the next level of social responsibility.

'Sustainability concentrates on energy/water/waste, community, heritage and corporate social responsibility. Doing well in all four categories places a company into a whole different light with consumers', Bauer, an advocate of certified sustainability, told me. 'According to our in-house data, certified companies reduce operating cost by 6.8% per year and are able to reach on average a million more consumers with communicating sustainability in the correct way'.

A recent global consumer survey by Unilever (a British-Dutch consumer goods company behind such brands as Lipton, Ben and Jerry's, Dove, and Knorr) cites a $1 trillion market opportunity for businesses that effectively market themselves as eco-innovators. In fact, 21% of those polled by Unilever said,'they would support brands that clearly conveyed the sustainability aspects of their products through their marketing and packaging'.

I can attest to this. Over the last decade, I've been meeting more and more clients who are keenly interested in sustainable practices. In fact, some are only willing to do business with companies that actively practice sustainability. Every year, I make it a goal to expand my agency's eco-efforts beyond the office, taking cues from my own engineers as well as former clients, like Zkipster, an event management app that helps cut back on needless invitation paper trails.

In addition to our waste recycling and energy saving initiatives we've implemented at all our offices, my company has also developed a food delivery startup that leverages bicycles instead of cars and recently co-founded a new urban bike-sharing platform, billed to be one of the most eco-friendly transport options on the European market when it launches this fall.

Sustainability is more than Just a shrewd business move that companies can promote on their websites and In their marketing literature, among other avenues. It is an important issue for all of us as human being and stewards of this world - it's the only one we've got. Interplanetary colonisation, despite the hype it's been getting from the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, is still Just science fiction. If it one day becomes a reality, great - but in the meanwhile, let's fix what we have, one recycle bin and data centre at a time.

Source: Adapted for teaching purposes from David Semerad, Forbes Agency Council, Community, October 21,2017.

Notes: This article says consumers have a likeness for sustainable practices and prefer sustainable products, which makes sustainability a good selling proposition. It also talks about how sustainability can serve as a firm’s CSR. It gives examples of the companies who are following the trend and implementing various sustainability programs. However, it rightly points out that the entrepreneur (small businesses owners) don’t need to do as the big firms are doing. It recommended they start with everyday sustainable practices.


  • 1. What are some good business practices for companies to integrate when entering new markets? What are the new marketing challenges that SMEs are faced with from their competitors?
  • 2. How do companies uphold their commitment to social responsibility, ethics, and sustainability values? Name some strategic processes that can be implemented. What strategic process would you implement? Why?


Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs was an incredibly influential entrepreneur who took an industry from a simple computer programming to revolutionizing technology through Apple. Apple's revolutionary products include the Apple iPod, iPhone, and IPad. His 'trade not aid' has invaluable consequences for nations and people around the world. But that is what entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs make change. When we look back in history many of the great achievers were thought of as 'nuts' until well after death. People scoff at things they don't know, can't understand, or believe will make change. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was a true champion for corporate responsibility throughout the world. He viewed business in the greater context of a world that should respect nature, animals, people, and employees. He believed business has a profound influence upon social and community economics and to a greater extent, the balance of life. These ideals underpinned the strategic development of the company he co-founded.

Source: Adapted for teaching purposes from


Love her or hate her, Anita Roddick was an incredibly influential entrepreneur who took a company from a single store to a major retailer as well as take on large-scale causes especially when they impact so many Ilves. Her 'trade not aid' has invaluable consequences for nations and people around the world. But that is what entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs make change. When we look back in history many of the great achievers were thought of as'nuts'until well after death. People scoff at things they don't know, can't understand, or believe will make change. Anita Roddick, the founder of the The Body Shop, was a true champion for corporate responsibility throughout the world. She viewed business in the greater context of a world that should respect nature, animals, people, and employees. She believed business has a profound influence upon social and community economics and to a greater extent, the balance of life. These ideals underpinned the strategic development of the company she founded.

Source: Adapted for teaching purposes from


The premise of this chapter is that much of what occurs in the contemporary marketplace is governed by symbolic processes, that is, by a rich, ever-changing play of imagery about the relations between persons and things. In the identity construction of the postmodern consumer (Elliot, 1999; Hamouda, 2015), the postmodern consumer no longer consumes products for their material utilities but for the symbolic meaning of those products as portrayed in their images. Products have become commodity signs and the real consumer has become a consumer of illusions - buying images, not things. Marketing is the active nerve-centre of these unfurling processes - in the degree to which it promotes what has been termed the consumer society and hedonistic lifestyle. O'Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy (2008) uses the triple platform of marketing, the consumer society and hedonism to deal with some of the contestations around the ‘dark side’ of consumer marketing: accumulation and display of material possessions, satisfying transitory appetites and created wants, seeking positional goods for social status and social bonding, consumers taking their identity from their possessions, commodification of social life, the impact of fantasy and imagery in influencing buying, image saturated environment pressing consumer to buy. In the face of multiple pressure-points (and countervailing forces) which now seems to characterise the environment of marketing, some of the ‘consumer society’ questions long asked by Nwankwo et al. (1993) remains valid:

■ How do consumers feel about the state of the marketplace and interrelationships with socioeconomic systems in which it is embedded?

■ What dominant values does business subscribe to? What drives these values?

■ Do consumers trust business as an agency for sustainable development?

■ What does the society expect of business (business being a societal institution)?

■ Are consumers’ views of the marketplace different from those of business?

■ What is the nature of interaction among markets, marketing and society?

■ What predictions can be made about the evolving marketplace?

In the beginning...

In the early periods of industrial development, attention was largely focussed on producing goods in an ever-increasing scale (the cliché, Fordism, is often applied to capture the mass production mentality of the era, e.g., the Ford Model T). An ethereal model of rational choice, and concepts of fixed tastes and preferences dominated economic thought (Leiss, 1983). The process of consumption was assumed to take care of itself. The marketplace was assumed to be the privileged locus for the satisfaction of wants. The situation is now changed dramatically, with emphasis shifting from consumer to conserver orientation. For example, the growing use of quality-of-life and ethical orientation measures are pointers to attempts to gauge the ‘subjective’ impact of socioeconomic circumstances on people's conception of well-being and the intersubjective aspects of consumption, that is, the relation between the individual’s taste and choices and the larger social setting.

Models of the marketplace

Each of us faces a set of moral dilemma as individual consumers - for example, as consumers who care about the environment and are keen to conserve energy on the one hand but on the other, want to use our air conditioners, heaters and other appliances that consume energy. At the level of the individual, these everyday contradictions are not easy to resolve and much less so in complex organisational settings. However, individuals as well as businesses endeavour to cope based on their respective cognitive models of the marketplace. Thus, how an individual views the way the interactions take place and are resolved reflects the individual’s model of the marketplace. Just as different people have different models of the marketplace and no single model applies to all situations, the same is true of businesses. However, from a marketing perspective, it has been suggested that a basic view will generally fit one of the following criteria (the schema was first presented by Greyer, 1973):

■ Manipulative model: this model portrays marketing’s role as basically that of persuading / seducing consumers to buy.

■ Service model: Marketing role is to serve the consumer. This is encapsulated in the marketing concept (consumer sovereignty).

■ Transactional model: This portrays marketing as a give-and-take operation which is mutually beneficial. Consumption is reflective of each individual’s buying criteria (reasoned action).

■ Relational model: Marketing’s role is simply not about satisfying the individual but building a long-term partnership in which business and consumer are co-development agents.

These perspectives present marketplace interactions, particularly the consumer’s situation in broad generality, as more significant than it was thought to be earlier. Many consumers are worried today about their deteriorating environment, by the additives in their food, the side effects of soap they use, the safety and reliability of the goods they buy, the pollution inherent in product usage, food mileage, carbon footprints, integrity of the marketplace (truthful consumer information, consumer education and consumer protection), etc. Increasingly, consumers are expressing a strong desire for a new value system in the marketplace and a higher quality of life in the community. Equally, there have been issues with the ‘junk culture’ that dominates modern society. Therefore, what is emerging is a growing trend towards re-evaluation of what we (as consumers) buy, how we buy, and the purpose of what we buy. Essentially, the prime underpinning is presumably geared towards determining which aspects of consumption do or do not truly weigh up in the quality of life scale, with minimal injury to the environment and the community. All of these present serious challenges to business - more particularly the SMEs that may have limited absorptive capacity to engage but nevertheless are expected to respond proactively for their own long-term survival. To help unpack these issues, we lean towards three conceptual prisms: sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility (SESR).


  • 1. What type of moral dilemma do consumer's face? What type of marketplace interactions are responsible for how the consumer views the model of the marketplace?
  • 2. How does the four models of the marketplace concerns affect the consumer’s perspective? How can business establishments re-shape the consumer perspective in the marketplace by addressing the three conceptual prisms?
  • 3. Is there a need for the three conceptual prisms in the marketplace? If so, why?


Marketing, as a discipline, has continued to exhibit a remarkable capacity to reinvigorate itself and chart new directions in a manner that helps us to make sense of both the continuous and discontinuous changes taking place in and around business (Nwankwo, 2004). Theorists (e.g., Kotler et al., 2009; Greyser, 1997) have chronicled the philosophical evolution of marketing to include the following epochal stages:

■ Product orientation;

■ Production orientation;

■ Sales orientation;

■ Market orientation;

■ Societal marketing orientation;

■ Social marketing orientation.

Also evident in the contemporary chronicle is the relationship marketing concept (Gum-messon, 2008) and, more recently, sustainability marketing, which often times is referred to as green marketing. They both reflect and connote different sensibilities. The latter is when a company focuses on social and environmental investments as a marketing strategy. The former reflects the concept of sustainable marketing that an organisation should meet the needs of its present consumers without compromising the ability of future generation to fulfil their own needs (Kotler et al., 2008). However, in these regards, Sustainability Marketing is used as a broad canvass to accommodate a range of allied and related sustainability concepts, such as ecological marketing, environmental marketing which is sometimes used interchangeably with green marketing, ethical marketing, consumerism and elements of social responsibility (Fuller, 1999; Belz and Peattie, 2009).


Although issues around sustainability are not altogether new (see also Box 21.2), the resurgence of interests in sustainability marketing is largely driven by the ideals embedded in the Brundtland Report on Sustainable Development, that is, development that meets the needs of the present generation but without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987). As would be expected, there are serious contentions about what constitutes sustainable development and how it should be defined (this angle of inquiry is outside the scope of this chapter but for a bespoke treatment, see, for example, Nwankwo et al., 2010). With this in mind, it is easy to appreciate the varying prisms from which marketing scholars have treated sustainability or sustainable marketing (Belz and Peattie, 2009; Jones et al., 2008; van Dam and Apeldoorn, 2008, Fuller, 1999).

Sustainability marketing is defined as “creating, producing and delivering sustainable solutions with higher net sustainable value whilst continuously satisfying customers and other stakeholder” (Charter et al., cited by Jones et al., 2008, p. 125). Fuller (1999, p. 4) explains the concept as: a process of planning, implementing, and controlling the development, pricing, promotion and distribution of products in a way that satisfies the following three criteria; (1) customer needs are met, (2) organisational goals are attained, and (3) the process is compatible with ecosystems. We can, thus, conceptualise sustainability marketing as the formulation and implementation of marketing strategies and activities (production, distribution and promotion decisions) in ways that are sensitive and respectful of both the natural and social environments. This is a clarion call for marketing processes to be conscious of the need to use ecologically resilient resources (e.g., biodegradable packaging), reduce energy consumption and waste generation, support fair trade initiatives, and promote healthier lifestyles and sustainable human ecology. These are by no means strange demands on entrepreneurs. Essentially, entrepreneurs are increasingly confronted with expectations to scale-up their awareness of the impact of their operations on the quality of the natural environment, promote sustainable business practice and ultimately strike a balance between profitability and responsible environmental stewardship. For SMEs, sustainability marketing is analogous to the enactment of multiple logics, balancing sustainability and profitability in entrepreneurial practice (De Clercq and Voronov, 2010). This requires ‘thinking outside the box’ (i.e., rethinking the Dominant Social Paradigm, DSP, Belz and Peattie, 2009, p. 279) because ‘companies should begin to prepare for a more sustainable millennium by re-examining the social and environmental impacts of their marketing strategies’ (Charter et al., cited by Jones et al., 2008).


15 Global Challenges

facing humanity

Source: The millennium project

Obviously, companies (both small and large) affect and are, in turn, affected by a raft of millennium challenges such as those enumerated in the Millennium Project: (see Box 21.4 and also Belt and Peattie, 2009; Fraj-Andres et al., 2008).

Some of the urgent sustainability questions confronting modern businesses include:

■ How can ethical marketplaces be encouraged to help reduce poverty levels? Despite and the approbation of the Millennium Development Goals, the proportion of the world population living below the poverty threshold (less than $2 a day) has not shown much significant decline. The literature indicates that SMEs are playing significant roles in poverty alleviation. The role of Fair-Trade and Microfinance institutions in development especially in third world countries are established in development discourses (see also Viswanathan and Sridharan, 2009).

■ How can growing energy demand be met safely and efficiently? How can shortages of 'life essentials’ (e.g., food, oil, water, pressures on energy supplies, and other forms of life support infrastructure) be met - not now but also in the future?

■ How can ethical consideration become more routinely incorporated into business decisions?

■ How can sustainable development be achieved for all ? The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that about 60% of the ecosystem services that support life on earth are used unsustainably. Yet without sustainable growth, billions of people will be condemned to poverty, and much of the civilisation will collapse (State of the Future Report, 2005).

■ How can population growth and resources be brought into balance? The global population has grown by 4-8 billion since 1950, now estimated to be in the region of around 7.6 billion but projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050.

■ How can incidences and spread of both curable and incurable diseases (malaria, HIV/ AIDS, cancer, etc.,) and the ease of transfer from livestock to humans of unfamiliar diseases that have impacted quality of life in several regions of the world be controlled?

■ How can mass movements in population groups (from rural to urban areas, from developing to developed countries) including internal displacements, as a result of wars or natural disasters, be reduced?

■ How can adverse climatic conditions; resulting to severe weather conditions, growing incidences of flooding, carbon emission, and depletion of the ozone layer be reduced?


  • 1. Identify two types of SMEs that play a significant role in poverty alleviation. Explain how they play a role in poverty alleviation.
  • 2. What were their roles in social responsibility?
  • 3. Were there any ethical concerns that needed to be addressed? If so, what were they?
  • 4. What type of resources did these SMEs use? Did this cause a sustainable growth? If so, how? Finally, what types of resources were involved?


Sustainability marketing embraces a wide array of activities that spans all areas of marketing functions; encompassing how products are produced, communicated and distributed, technology in use, purpose of production, and end user/societal/sustainable concerns. The scope of activities is far-reaching; requiring full commitment and value-driven approach to entrepreneurship. It is, in fact, a requisite philosophy and culture of sustainable entrepreneurship marketing. An appropriate orientation will reflect the degree to which an SME integrates sustainability values within its entrepreneurial culture; a change in traditional marketing orientation (focussed on widening marketing scope) to sustainability marketing orientation, or SMO (with added focus on protecting social stakeholders and the natural environment). A firm’s SMO may be revealed along a continuum at the opposite ends of which respectively locates a reactive, low-profile stance and a proactive, high-profile stance (see Nwankwo, 1995, for an illustrative framework for diagnosing a customer orientation). Two issues (philosophical positioning and implementation readiness) are therefore important in this respect:

■ sustainability marketing orientation (i.e., the degree of acceptance of sustainability ideals and how the values are embedded in the philosophy of entrepreneurship);

■ sustainability marketing strategy (the extent to which sustainability values are integrated into marketing strategy processes and implementation decisions).

These two dimensions must jell together in any firm that wishes to be taken seriously on the sustainability marketing agenda. However, the ‘acid test’ lies in: (1) how firms frame their understanding of sustainability marketing and (2) how they align their strategies to deliver the vision.


In one of the most recent and comprehensive expositions of sustainability marketing Belz and Peattie (2009, pp. 271-272) argues that progress towards sustainability marketing requires the reframing and rethinking of many aspects of conventional marketing, including:

■ An appreciation of social and ecological problems at macro level;

■ A basic understanding of the socioecological impacts of products on a micro level;

■ A change of emphasis from economic exchange to building and maintaining relationships with consumers;

■ A critical reflection on the basic assumptions of marketing, its norms and values;

■ Moving beyond the consideration of products and services to see the delivery of benefits to consumers in terms of providing them with solutions;

■ An emphasis on the total economic and noneconomic cost of consumption instead of simply price;

■ Communication as a two-way dialogue that builds relationships with consumers rather than an emphasis on the unidirectional promotion of products to them;

■ The necessity of sustainability marketing transformations within and by the companies.

Figure 21.1 sets out the steps, rudimentarily, that SMEs may take to development a SMO. In doing so, they will need to address the following question:

■ Purposefulness: where does the business want to be! Analyses at this level will lead to reconciling entrepreneurial values with sustainability ideals.

■ Take a philosophical stance: why does the business want to be where it wants to be!

■ Develop a sustainability market orientation mission. This must be futuristic and embedded within the ideals of sustainable development.

A process approach to sustainability marketing orientation

Figure 21.1 A process approach to sustainability marketing orientation

■ Audit presentation orientation: How well balanced is the business now in terms of achieving its purpose!

■ Develop action plan: What does the business need to do to get to where it wants to be?

■ Monitor progress: Is the business on course towards its stated mission?


What is ethics?

The concept of ethics refers to the moral principles and values that generally inform the conduct of individuals. Ethics refers to accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a person, the members of a profession, or the actions of an organisation. It is the study of what constitutes right or wrong, good or bad conduct. Ethical behaviour consists of the exhibition of those moral or ethical conducts that are considered appropriate within a society or an organisation. Interestingly enough, the concept of ethics seems to be susceptible to all kinds of interpretations, that is, it is not only interchangeably used with morality, it gets mixed up sometimes with law, etiquette, and religion. And yet there are discernible differences.

Ethics is said to be something everyone likes to talk about, especially with the current spate of questionable behaviours within organisations, yet nobody knows exactly what it is. It has even been suggested that ethics has an individual value composition, i.e., it is what the individual says it is. Because ethics, indeed moral standards, can mean different things to different people, with many varied opinions or suggestions, it makes it absolutely necessary to articulate a perspective of ethics that is both relevant and comprehendible within a context, business, profession or society.

It is generally agreed that ethics is the study of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Of course, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in relation to who or what? The answers to these questions become situational, environmental, as well as circumstantial ones. This explains why reasonably ethical people may hold different and competing ethical positions on a number of issues from abortion, child labour, human rights, environmental preservation, unfair lending practices, etc. And which also explains why during the global meltdown of 2008, amidst contending widespread demands for economic and financial reliefs, many rational and even ethical people rationalised the moral hazard of bailing out some institutions.

Sources of ethical values

Where do our moral/ethical standards come from? How is it the case that within the same society there could be overlapping in ethical and moral standards? It has been suggested that many things influence us in the moral principles we hold or accept. These include early upbringing, education, the behaviour of those around us, the explicit and implicit standards of our culture, our experiences, and critical reflections of those experiences (Shaw and Barry, 2010). Ethical theorists are of the consensus that there are five sources of ethics: The Utilitarian Approach, The Rights Approach, The Fairness or Justice Approach, The Common Good Approach, and The Virtue Approach (A Framework for Thinking Ethically. ETHICS 1, (2 Winter 1988). These source differences have a way of affecting ethical thinking and rationalisation.

In these myriad of value judgments, is the normative theoretical delineation of ethical concepts based on outcomes? These are the consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories of ethics. The consequentialist theorists are of the view that the moral rightness of an action is determined solely by its outcome. That is to say, if the consequences of an act are good, then that act is ethical, if the consequences of that action are bad, then

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP MARKETING that act is unethical. Actions are desirable if they lead to the best possible balance of good consequences over bad consequences. Problems with utilitarianism include measuring the benefits, costs, and risks of an action, and the fact that the approach fails to consider justice. The other question that arises is: consequences for whom, the individual or the group? It has been suggested that the two most important theories in this context are Utilitarianism and Egoism. Whilst Utilitarianism advocates taking into consideration everyone involved, producing the greater proportion of ‘good’ to the greatest number of people. Egoism contends that individual self-interest is the primary objective. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ could not be better explained. Utilitarianism, on the other hand, much better explains the public and organisational ethical rationale for most decisions involving distributing social benefits.

Non-consequentialist (deontology) theories of ethics contend that the diminution of ethics to outcomes or consequences trivialises the meaning and essence of ethics. Kantian (deontology) ethics, leading non-consequentialist theorists, are based on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant who argued that people should be treated as ends and never purely as means to the ends of others. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ should retain their intrinsic value without reference to outcome. In the context of societal complexities and a constantly evolving business environment, one cannot but wonder about the practicality of deontology. Social and business decisions cannot be devoid of cost-benefit analysis in every decision making. For example, should a business make a decision to offer free healthcare to all of its employees without considering affordability, just because it is the right and moral thing to do, without taking into consideration the cost and its impact on the businesses’ bottom-line?

Ethical relativism is the other ethical concept justifiably based on the realisation that because our ethics is, among other things, a function of our peculiar culture, environment, upbringing, society, etc., it is therefore conceivable that our ethics must necessarily be open to these variabilities. In his essay, ‘Is Business Bluffing Ethical?’, Carr (1968) contends that business, as practiced by individual and corporations, wears the impersonal character of a game - a game that demands both special ethical standards. Essentially, business has its own norms and rules that differ from the rest of society, and a number of things that are normally thought of as wrong are really permissible in a business context.

According to Shaw and Barry (2010), examples include conscious misstatement and concealment of pertinent facts in negotiation, lying about one’s age on a curriculum vitae, deceptive packaging, automobile companies’ neglect of safety, and utility companies’ manipulation of regulators and overcharging of electricity users.

Carr’s (1968) analogy of ethical relativism with poker is both instructive and illustrative, albeit rationalising misleadingly:

Poker’s own brand of ethics is different from the ethical ideals of civilized human relationships. The game calls for distrust of the other fellow. It ignores the claim of friendship. Cunning deception and concealment of one's strength and intentions, not kindness and open-heartedness, are vital in poker. No one thinks any the worse of poker on that account. And no one should think any the worse of the game of business because its standards of right and wrong differ from the prevailing traditions of morality in our society.

The point though is that business must operate within a set of ethical rules of conduct that must take into consideration the established ideals, norms, rules and traditions of the larger society (see Box 21.5). What that means is that certain conducts for business are necessarily prohibited within a given society, as unethical.


Ethical principles

  • Mosaic Law: do unto others as they do to you.
  • Pareto criterion: choose actions that are likely to benefit one or more people at the expense of none.
  • Means-end ethics: The accumulation of wealth is essential to ensure one’s survival, and growth.
  • Golden rule. Do to other what you would wish them to do to you.
  • Professional ethics: No one in society is above the law, so everyone must comply with legislation regardless whether or not the law appears nonsensical.
  • Non-interventionist rule: A free-for-all business practice can create benefits for everyone.
  • Organisational ethics: There is one rule for business and another for private life.
  • Utilitarian principle. Taking the course of action which is likely to do the most good and the least harm.

Major theories relevant to business

  • • Teleology - utilitarianism: Actions are judged by their consequences.
  • • Deontology - the theory of rights: Acting from a sense of duty rather than concern for consequences is the basis for mortal obligation.
  • • Theory of justice: Decisions should be guided by equitableness, fairness, and impartiality.
  • • Cultural relativism: Ethical standards are culture-specific.

There is no such thing as a universal or generally acceptable ethical conduct, as ethics recognises the relativity of moral conducts within nations, organisations, and societies. What is acceptable behaviour in one nation may be considered unethical in another. Ethics becomes an issue across nations because of differing political systems, economic systems, legal systems, and cultural values. Indeed, cultural relativism also argues that ethics are culturally determined and that firms should adopt the ethics of the cultures in which they operate, in other words, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'.

Perspectives: will we walk on common ground?

One day during the 19th century, a British merchant ship docked in a Chinese port. It had been a long voyage. The crew members were given shore leave and took advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves. In the course of the night, a British sailor got into a drunken brawl and killed a Chinese coolie. The response of the local Chinese governor was immediate and exact. A posse of armed men trotted down to the quay, seized the first British sailor they met, chopped his head off, and trotted smartly back to barracks.

The captain of the merchantman was outraged. He stormed into the governor's residence to make an angry protest.

The governor was gently surprised. "Why are you so angry? You English; so keen on justice. I have done justice. Have a cup of tea?"

"Justice? What d'you mean justice? You executed the wrong man!"

"The wrong man? I do not understand. You kill one of mine, so I kill one of yours.

That's fair isn't it? After all I could have killed 10."

Source: Adapted from the Financial Times, 24 December 1999, for teaching purpose only


  • 1. What ethical theory best describes the decision of the Chinese governor?
  • 2. Summarise and evaluate other ethical issues raised in the case paper.


Ethical behaviour in business is one premised on the generally accepted and permitted conduct in that line of business. These may also reflect the laws and regulations that affect social and economic behaviour in that society. For SMEs, this can be very challenging largely because of their organisational and resource constraints. Given the mushrooming of SMEs and their deadly competitive drive for market share and profit, the ethical compromises can be compelling. As a result of the relative use of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the context of ethical behaviour in a particular business, how does one begin to rationalise the conduct of an estate agent who deliberately misrepresents the income of prospective homebuyers and thus their capacity to make mortgage payments, just because he/she must meet sales quota? Or the conduct of Banks’ Sales Services’ agents who go on to open accounts in customers names and send out credit cards to them without their permissions or consents (Maggie McGrath, 2017). Is it ethical to turn a blind eye to obvious falsehood? What should be the agent’s ethical responsibilities? Again, is it ethical for a bank to package Credit Default Swaps (CDS) snd Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDO), trade them to unsuspecting investors, and brazenly go ahead to take out insurance protection for their eventual default, knowing full well that the underlying assets are worthless? In essence, this would mean gleefully betting on the failure of a debt instrument so created. What may be wrong with ‘Insiders Trading’? Can ethical lapses be of victimless consequences? Where does the moral or ethical responsibility lie? Could the test be one of who may be ‘harmed’ in these outcomes? There are no easy answers (see Figure 21.2 for possibilities).

Figure 21.2

Schema for evaluating ethical/legal stances


Understandably there is hardly a cut-and-dried answer to ethical questions or decisionmaking processes. They can be very situational. Clearly in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the roots of unethical behaviour may be complex and generally reflect ethical dilemmas (situations where none of the available alternatives seems ethically acceptable) of small businesses; they nonetheless encompass familiar preoccupations like individual ethics, decision-making processes, leadership, performance expectations, and organisational culture. It is also the case that some of the more common areas where ethical issues arise in SMEs are employment practices, human rights, environmental pollution, corruption (both institutionalised and private), product and service quality, and durability.

In order to assist SMEs manage their ethical conundrum, and sometimes dilemmas, it is necessary to articulate some kind of ethical guidelines or code of conduct to help them and their employees navigate these myriads of situational and environmental relativities, in order to achieve a more acceptable utilitarian outcome. Because SMEs differ in their organisational focus and customer or stakeholders’ expectations, it (guideline) should be rather dynamic and evolutionary. It would be different for every organisation. This indeed makes it unrealistic for a prescriptive model or form of do’s and don’ts. However, a more helpful and useful ethical guideline should contain some basics. According to Lamb et al. (2011), it has a number of advantages:

■ The guidelines help employees identify what their firm recognises as acceptable business practices.

■ A code of ethics can be an effective internal control on behaviour, which is more desirable than external controls like government regulation.

■ A written code helps employees avoid confusion when determining whether their decisions are ethical.

■ The process of formulating the code of ethics facilitates discussions among employees about what is right and wrong, and ultimately leads to better decisions.


Social responsibility (SR) refers to the idea that businesses and business people should take the social consequences of economic actions into account when making business decisions, and that there should be a presumption in favor of decisions that have both good economic and good social consequences (Hills, 2011). It is also believed to be of a business and business people having healthy concerns about the society in which they operate, the concept of Social Community. The newest theory in social responsibility, called wholesome sustainability, is best demonstrated by businesses taking into consideration both the long-range best interests of the company and the company’s relationships to the larger stakeholder society in which it operates (Lamb et al., 2011; Marc, 2005).

Social responsibility proposition incorporates such varied components which demand evolving obligations that are constantly changing with the dynamism of a rapidly evolving global environment. The concept of social responsibility, in relativity terms, may mean a set of different sensibilities and expectations in the UK, the US, China, Brazil, South Africa, or even India. It should be noted therefore that SR would have particular environmental and societal need correlation to it. A recent study of businesses who said that they consider social responsibility factors when making decisions include Brazil, 62%); Canada, 54%; Australia 52%; the US 47%; India 38%; China 35%; and Mexico 26% (2007).

Social responsibility has four seemingly interdependent components:

■ Economic (pursuit of profits);

■ Legal (obey the law);

■ Ethical (do what is right, fair, and just);

■ Philanthropy (good corporate citizenship).

There are contentions as to the true ethical role of business, in terms of the social responsibilities of business. Do businesses have a primary and overriding purpose, as is stated in the memorandum and articles of incorporation, setting up the business? It is believed to be one of a duty of care and responsibility, to the shareholders, for whom they hold business assets in trust and cannot misapply the assets in ‘giving back’, and indulging general societal goodwill businesses, unless such ‘extracurricular activities’ are for the benefit and purposes of the business and in furtherance of generating profits/value to the shareholders. To the larger society, the business owes superior products and services, paying taxes and obeying the laws and following the regulations. Any further expectations beyond these tantamount to usurpation of the role and responsibilities of government, to whom taxes are paid.

Milton Friedman's doctrine is premised along these lines. He suggests that the only social responsibility of business is to increase profits, so long as the company stays within the rules of law. He argues that to the degree that business executives spend more money than they need to purchase delivery trucks with hybrid engines, pay higher wages in developing countries, or even donate company funds to charity, they are spending company funds outside the company’s overriding primary purposes. Better to pay dividends and allow shareholders the discretionary allocation of their social goodwill.

For SMEs, SR takes on a whole new meaning and significance. Should their level of social responsibility be one of modified expectations or equal responsibility? Should they be subject to the same rules when it comes to child labour, human rights, environmental preservation, unfair lending practices, defective product liability, unfair trade practices, etc.? They should. To hold otherwise will not only be unfair but undermine the underlying premises of social ethical responsibility.

Again, SR would have varying relevance and significance to different SMEs. For example, the social responsibilities of a dry-cleaning business in relation to water and laundry chemical usage and their greenhouse impact would be different for a small retail business that has a merchandise return policy that it finds every excuse in its receipts’ fine-prints to avoid. Whatever their organisational focus, it should indeed be the case that the SR of business must be one that the business recognises its obligations to the larger stakeholder society in its product and service delivery.


In the absence of any consensus on what SR means, response strategies are likely to be varied; reflecting each player philosophical positioning and sensitivity to social issues. Response models generally discernible from the extant literature include:

■ Regulatory model: This model is encapsulated in the cliché ‘business of business is business’ — well, so long as regulations are adhered to.

■ Defensive model: Perhaps, the best way to represent this model is government of the society is not the business of business. Therefore, business has a duty to put its interests at the foremost and protect them accordingly.

■ Deceptive model: This response model is closely in line with the Machiavellian principle: the end justifies the means. Many businesses are not really ‘very open and truthful’ about their social responsibility credentials.

■ Accommodative model: Proactively accepting to drive forward social agenda - business-driven social activism (e.g., The Body Shop).


Today, more than ever before, to use a theatrical analogy, SMEs perform on a stage where other actors (e.g., conscientious stakeholders — environmentalists, consumerists) and the sets (environments of marketing) change frequently and there is no guarantee that the play will not be cancelled because of a lack of response from an unappreciative audience. Continuing with this analogy, SMEs should be certain that many of their performances will receive critical reviews from social observers, regulatory bodies, consumer-interest groups etc. Thomas Petit, in his famous book Freedom in American Economy reminded us that in every society there is more or less continuous interaction between social values and economic institutions. Values may be thought of as sustainability-derived normative standards which act as a filter in the articulation of ends or in pursuits of certain goals. Therefore, the concept of value will be a central tool in the analysis of how economic actors play their roles.

Indeed, sustainability, ethics, and social responsibility (SESR) values bestride modern entrepreneurial landscape like a colossus. In today’s dynamic society, pressure for adaptation and responsiveness to renascent social and environmental values are proving enormous. For SMEs, it cannot be business as usual. The more the level of commitment to the emerging values, the greater the chance of success in navigating the murky waters of entrepreneurship. SESR values are not transient values. They meet the criteria of acceptance of what constitutes dominant social values in sociological interpretations because they are:

■ Extensive: The proportion of the population that hold and propagate SESR values has grown exponentially.

■ Durability: SESR values are not a fad.

■ Intensity: SESR are not only receiving a surge of societal affirmation but also the severity of sanction connected with contra-behaviour is growing.

■ Prestige of value carrier: Frontrunners in accepting and implementing SESR values are held in high esteem and, accordingly, more likely to achieve superior and sustainable market positioning.


■ Sustainability values Environmentalism

■ Ethical dilemma Sustainability marketing

■ Social responsibility Marketplace integrity


Immerging technologies have historically, been vital drivers of innovations as far back as the creation of the steam engine.The impact of technology in the 21st century is stronger than it has ever been, with new innovations changing the course of entire industries. For SMEs technology as an enabler and accelerator of change and development brings about new opportunities, as well as challenges to consider and integrate into their strategic direction.

Advances in technology present major considerations for sustainability of S M Es. While it makes it easier to reach goals and customers, technology in some respects starts to infringe on the rights of individuals, bordering on ethical considerations. SME's adopting technology must now address ethical issues as it applies to technology for sustainability and continuous adherence to corporate social responsibility. Sustainability will, therefore, be achieved by striking a balance in the adoption of technology in such a way that profits are earned while reducing the impact on environment and society (Kumar et al., 2013).

According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group on the relationship between S M Es' adoption of technology and their performance, SMEs that adopt technology faster tend to outperform their competitors (Michael et al., 2013). However, it Is interesting to note that although digital technology provides vast opportunities for boosting efficiencies, SMEs are lagging behind in their adoption (OECD, 2018).


  • 1. What do you perceive to be the factors contributing to the slow adoption of technology by SMEs?
  • 2. In what ways might technology assist SMEs in responding to SR, ethics, and sustainability pressures?


  • 1. Explain the sustainability marketing concept? Distinguish between conventional marketing orientation and sustainability marketing orientation.
  • 2. What role does technology play in supporting a sustainability marketing orientation?
  • 3. In what way does technology change the competitive landscape for SMEs in terms of ethical considerations? Should ethics matter to SMEs?
  • 4. What do you understand by 'social responsibility'? Provide examples of how an SME can adopt each of the social responsibility approaches.
  • 5. 'Consumers and companies acting together can change the world' (Anita Roddick). Do you agree with this statement? Justify your answer.


  • 1. Justify the logic of sustainability marketing. Using secondary sources of data, identify companies that achieved market growth as a result of adopting and implementing sustainability values.
  • 2. Check out the following on the website: (1) One Planet Economy and (2) One Percent Club. Develop an argument, supported with real-life illustrations, to justify or debunk firms'commitments to sustainability. Should SMEs be encouraged to become members of such networks?


Opportunity recognition, speed, and flexibility have become the holy grail of successful SME operations. In the present austere economic times, small-scale money lenders, especially those operating in many inner cities, are becoming adept in their brand of 'entrepreneurial marketing'. With the recurrent company closures, loss of jobs, tight formal employment markets, lack of growth in salaried employment, and attendant family budgeting constraints, small-scale lenders are doing a brisk business and raising the bar in their entrepreneurialism.To compound matters (but good prospect for the loan sharks - as they are often referred), the banks (smarting up from near-catastrophe brought about by the recession) have not responded proactively to entreaties to lend more to business and, therefore, ease the credit crunch.

Recently, evidence of untoward practices started to surface in many parts of the U l< as a result of the credit squeeze. According to an official of the Trading Standards Institute,'we are experiencing a considerable increase in the number of people who turn to loan sharks because it is becoming harder for consumers to obtain credit. If people are looking to borrow, they need to ask the lender to see their consumer credit license as this is proof the lender is legal'. Joining the campaign against loan sharks, both the Citizen Advice and the Birmingham Illegal Money Lending Team during the National Consumer Week, in association with the Office of Fair Trading in London urged consumer to think carefully before dabbling into life-threatening situations.'We want to get the message out there that you are likely to get ripped off if you borrow from someone without a license and could end up costing a lot more than you are expecting'. Consumer Minister, Gareth Thomas, had this to say,'Let the unscrupulous and predatory lenders be warned - if they try to draw families into the murky world of illegal money lending, they will face investigation and prosecution by anti-loan shark teams working across the country'.

The fact is, some of the moneylenders operating in the country are not licensed. According to the Office of Fair Trading, anyone who borrows from the unlicensed moneylender is likely to get a loan on very bad terms, pay an extortionate rate of interest, be harassed if you get behind with your repayments, or be pressured into borrowing more from them to repay one debt with another.

Apart from the SME lenders, the banks have not come out unscathed.They have been accused of bringing about the conditions that are leading more and more people into debt and now discriminating against the very people they have blacklisted as poor borrowers. Recently, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that'the inability to access a bank account can prevent some of Britain's poorest people from joining mainstream society by making it more difficult for them to receive pay cheques and pay bills'. While this might be at the personal or consumer level, the same applies for small businesses that depend on the banks to be able to revitalise their operations.

Consequently, it is little surprising that small time money lenders have recognised this opportunity and have been quick to respond to the growing needs for quick loans. Furthermore, they have been flexible enough to make the cost of borrowing (at face value) less tedious. While this might have brought some form of respite for small businesses and individuals who can now secure finance more easily, there seems to be a catch as the hidden cost of borrowing have given rise to questions. The ethical concerns range from: (1) exorbitant interest charges as was the case of one 'illegal loan shark charged one family an extortionate one thousand, two hundred percent interest' (ITV News, 22 March 2010); (2) use of violence rather than civil legal means to resolve credit default or repayment difficulties. Only recently, an ITV Wales investigation has found that while many families have struggled to bring home the bacon, loan sharks have grown fat from their misery. Around 100 are now thought to operate in Wales, dishing out quick cash, but threatening violence when payments are missed (ITV News, 22 March 2010).

The problem has now become so widespread that the UK government has set up a website to report loan shark activity as well as to provide advice for potential borrowers. Whilst all of these are going on, however, some questions need to be asked: is there a need to regulate entry into financial services by SMEs? Should moneylender SMEs in the sector be made to advertise their ethical/ or corporate social responsibility ethos on their websites? Is it only a few of these small-time lenders that seem to be tarnishing the image of the sector? Are there any industry standards in this sector and who are the key leaders?

Student activity:

What are the key ethical issues raised in this case?

What would be your suggestions for resolving the issues you have identified?

Assume that you have been hired by a group of'industry players'to help development an ethical statement. Give your presentation. You should be ready to outline what principles you considered and rationalised in finalising your assignment.

Compiled from news sources

Sources: ITN (24 March 2010) Banks told to'give bank account to everyone'. Online at: http:// [accessed 24 March 20101

ITV News (2010) Loan Shark Despair. ITV News, 11 March. Online at: com/wales/loan-shark-dispair6869O/[accessed 24 March 20101

(ITV News, 22 March 2010) Loan Shark Victim. Online at: thismorning/real life/loansharkvictim/

Directgov (n.d) Targeting unlicensed money lenders. Online at: http://stoploan [accessed 24 March 20101


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