Italian SMEs and the Sustainability Challenge

For 30% of Italian SMEs, sustainability can help leaving the crisis behind faster, and over 80% consider sustainability an important element in strategic and investment choices.

A further 80%, then, consider important to evaluate the environmental, social and governance aspects of granting credit. Furthermore, Italian companies believe it is essential to increase information and promotion on sustainable finance tools.

This is what emerges from the latest survey by BVA Doxa for the Forum of Sustainable Finance presented at the opening of the ninth edition of the SRI Week, which examined the approach to sustainability and sustainable and responsible investment products of a representative sample of 477 Italian SMEs. 

SUSTAINABILITY AS ESSENTIAL ELEMENT TO RECOVER AFTER COVID-19 – One in three companies believes that integrating sustainability among the criteria that guide strategic choices will help to get out of the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly, and this figure reaches 39% among companies with at least 50 employees. In the new socio-economic context affected by the pandemic, 37% in fact expect an increase in attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABILITY: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES – For over 80% of the SMEs interviewed, sustainability is an important element in strategic and investment choices; more than half of the sample plans to integrate the consideration of ESG issues into the company’s overall strategy. The environmental dimension is the best known, the most appreciated and codified. The greatest benefits deriving from pursuing sustainability initiatives are related to marketing and product strategies (in 73% of the SMEs interviewed), and to the improvement of the company’s reputation and attractiveness (in 52% of cases). The challenges for working in a sustainable way are mainly represented by higher costs (52%) and bureaucratic difficulties, for example to obtain and maintain certifications (50%).

SMEs AND SUSTAINABLE FINANCE – Most SMEs see sustainability as an important element in financial and credit activities. In fact, 80% believe that financial operators should combine ESG indicators with traditional ones to adequately assess creditworthiness; for 33% sustainable projects should benefit from better financing conditions. 70% say they collect ESG data for internal use, for stakeholders or to be made available to the public.

The use of Social and Responsible Investment (SRI) still has ample room for progression. In fact, only one in three companies has considered sustainable finance products and less than 30% have adopted tools such as sustainability ratings or drafted a Non-Financial Statement. The main reason is that promotion and communication are still limited: 70% of the companies interviewed have never been offered to evaluate forms of financing for sustainable projects. In fact, most of the SMEs interviewed ask financial operators to increase economic-financial, reputational and marketing / positioning terms.

Banks emerge as the main point of reference: most SMEs attribute to them an important function, both in the choice of financial instruments (41%) and in the promotion of SRI products (35%).

Simone Pizzoglio, Partner, Head of BU Finance & Utilities of BVA Doxa, illustrated the results of the research: “Sustainability is no longer just a need, but a real strategic tool for positively emerging from emergencies and crises. This is an increasingly widespread awareness among Italian SMEs as well, which have now understood the advantages in terms of competitiveness. It is therefore time to put it into practice, even if the difficulties remain: one in two companies finds bureaucratic and administrative barriers”.



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