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ESG action downgraded as a priority by SMEs


  • 71% of SMEs are not currently acting to reduce their carbon emissions
  • 85% of SMEs are not currently measuring their carbon footprint

Almost three quarters (71%) of SME businesses are not currently acting to reduce their carbon emissions, as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) performance is downgraded and digitalisation, employee wellbeing, cost inflation, and recruitment take priority.

The latest Azets SME Barometer Spring 2022, which surveyed 1,093 SMEs from all sectors in the UK, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, reveals ESG is on most company radars but specific action lacks urgency, with sharper focus on people, technology, and cost amid economic turbulence.

Over half of SMEs agree they have a good understanding of what ESG means (57%) and have the skills and competencies in the business to address it (52%).

However, 53% do not think ESG will have a big impact on their business in the next two years.

On reducing carbon emissions specifically, 71% are not currently acting and 85% are not currently measuring the carbon footprint of their business.

Meanwhile, over half (54%) of SMEs say they will increase digitalisation in the year ahead, whilst employee wellbeing has risen to be SMEs’ second highest priority, after securing their financial health.

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Cost inflation and recruitment are SMEs’ biggest day-to-day challenges, with knock-on effects on cash flow and the time spent on administrative work.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of SMEs are struggling to recruit talent with the right skills.

All of this leaves little bandwidth and urgency for ESG.

Donald Boyd, Head of Growth at Azets, said: “The SME Barometer shows that many businesses want to focus on ESG and sustainability to a far greater extent than before. But it also highlights an alarming number that do not keep climate accounts today. There is a clear focus on digitalisation, cyber security, wellbeing, and costs, leading to a downgrading of ESG as a priority. This is the result of instability in the market forcing companies to prioritise differently than just a year ago.

“For some SMEs rooted in their local community, ESG appears as common sense. For others it poses challenges in terms of cost and the expertise and resources required to implement it. Given current pressures on SMEs, a basic challenge can simply be finding the time to bring ESG to the fore when there are more pressing matters to deal with.

“However, ESG represents a great potential and opportunity for SMEs. With legislation coming down the track for EU SMEs on sustainable products, and funding likely to be harder to come by as banks increasingly look at sustainability and ESG policies as a condition of lending, ESG is set to become an increasingly important theme. Businesses should be thinking ahead and taking specialist advice.”

ESG will be a key theme at the inaugural Global SME Leaders Growth Conference on 12 May 2022, which welcomes SME leaders to explore current challenges and opportunities. The Global SME Leaders Growth Conference will be hosted by Azets Group CEO Chris Horne and MD Azets Finland Ulla Nikkanen, with guest keynote speakers from Wired Magazine, The Gender Index, Bremont, and Digital Workplace. Register to join here.


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