The Sustainability Lab of SDA Bocconi, in collaboration with SMEEnterPRIZE by Generali, conducted a research study titled "Fostering Sustainability in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises". The study highlights how companies are seeking greater commitment from policymakers to accelerate towards a more sustainable future.
On the occasion of the United Nations Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, SDA Bocconi conducted research for the SME EnterPRIZE project, an initiative conceived by Generali with the aim of promoting a culture of sustainability among European SMEs. The study, conducted by the School's Sustainability Lab, engaged owners and managers of over 1200 SMEs from 9 European countries, asking them about the major needs of companies to accelerate change and promote sustainability in their business.
The first data point that emerges testifies to the impact produced by the funds made available by Europe through the NextGenerationEU initiative. In fact, over half of the subjects involved in the research state that this initiative has had positive effects on companies' ability to address challenges posed by the pandemic crisis.
However, in recent years, additional critical elements have emerged in the global socioeconomic landscape. Fluctuations in energy prices, inflation, uncertain geopolitical outlooks: SMEs' journey towards a more sustainable future must contend with a global scenario still dominated by instability. Within this framework, half of the interviewed companies express a desire for greater support from institutional policymakers in terms of public incentives, legislative clarity, streamlined bureaucratic processes, and more substantial investments in training and acquiring new skills.
Nevertheless, SMEs across Europe demonstrate readiness to seize new opportunities for growth and innovation. Nearly half of them have already implemented sustainability plans focused on embracing ESG principles as a lever for change and competitiveness in their business. In this context, companies that have implemented welfare initiatives for employees, community engagement, and environmental protection have shown greater resilience to external shocks. This resilience extends not only to economic and financial performance but also encompasses environmental stewardship, customer satisfaction, and reputation with clients and stakeholders.
Stefano Pogutz said: ”The research underscores the resilience of European SMEs in adopting sustainability, with 44% having embraced or in the process of adopting a more formalized approach in 2023. This reflects a 3% increase from the previous year and a significant 10% rise from a 2020 pan-European investigation, despite recent challenges like the pandemic and geopolitical issues.
To achieve a comprehensive sustainability transition, the focus is on convincing the remaining hesitant companies. Overcoming barriers such as limited institutional support and resources is crucial, along with highlighting the positive outcomes experienced by proactive SMEs.
Positive impacts span organizational, relational, market, and competitive domains. Notably, 76% of SMEs reported improved resource or energy efficiency, leading to cost reductions, and 68% successfully accessed new markets, boosting revenues.
The key message for companies lagging behind is to convey that sustainability is an investment with positive returns, dispelling the notion that it's merely a cost. Demonstrating these tangible benefits is vital for encouraging broader adoption.”
In conclusion, the research highlights how sustainability is becoming an essential pillar for the future of SMEs in Europe, despite the progress that still needs to be made by responsible bodies and institutions promoting sustainability and ESG investments.
The key message for companies lagging behind is to convey that sustainability is an investment with positive returns, dispelling the notion that it's merely a cost. Demonstrating these tangible benefits is vital for encouraging broader adoption”.
SDA Bocconi School of Management