Lesson 4: Going Green – obstacles and benefits

The benefits of going green as a SME

  1. Access to funding: The EU has set up various funding mechanisms to support the transition to a sustainable economy, including the Just Transition Fund (Link), the European Green Investment Plan (Link), InvestEU (Link) and the European Innovation Council’s Green Deal (Link) funding. Small companies can apply for these funds to finance their sustainability projects and green transition activities.
  2. Cost Savings: Implementing sustainable practices can help SMEs reduce their operating costs by using energy-efficient equipment and reducing waste, which in turn leads to lower utility bills and material costs.
  3. Improved Brand Reputation: Embracing sustainability can enhance an SME’s brand reputation among customers, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders. A strong sustainability commitment can attract new customers who value environmentally and socially responsible practices.
  4. Access to New Markets: Many businesses and consumers are actively seeking out sustainable products and services, and SMEs that can meet this demand may gain access to new markets and customers.
  5. Increased Employee Engagement and Loyalty: Employees are more likely to be motivated and committed to a company that values sustainability and social responsibility. A sustainable workplace can also lead to reduced employee turnover and improved productivity.
  6. Reduced Risk: Sustainable practices can reduce a company’s exposure to environmental and social risks. For example, reducing waste and pollution can help SMEs comply with regulations and avoid fines.
  7. Innovation: Embracing sustainability often requires SMEs to adopt new technologies, processes, and practices. This can lead to innovation and the development of new products or services, giving SMEs a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Transitioning towards sustainability isn’t just about business gains – it’s a pledge to minimize environmental impact and ideally, counteract the climate crisis. By adopting eco-friendly practices, SMEs can make a substantial difference. This choice isn’t merely ethically sound; it also unlocks an array of economic, reputational, and operational advantages: Overall, becoming sustainable can be a smart business strategy for SMEs, helping them save money, enhance their brand reputation, access new markets, engage employees, reduce risk, and foster innovation.

Potential Risks and Obstacles for SME‘s trying to go Green

  1. High initial costs: Implementing sustainable practices may require significant investment in new technologies, equipment, and materials. This can be a significant financial burden for SMEs, particularly those with limited resources.
  2. Lack of expertise: SMEs may not have the expertise or knowledge necessary to develop and implement sustainable practices. This can lead to mistakes, wasted resources, and ineffective sustainability initiatives.
  3. Limited access to financing: SMEs may have limited access to financing options that can support sustainability initiatives. Banks and investors may view sustainability as a risky investment and may be hesitant to provide financing.
  4. Resistance from employees and customers: Some employees and customers may not understand or support the company’s sustainability initiatives. This can lead to resistance, reduced morale, and even a loss of customers.
  5. Compliance with regulations: Compliance with sustainability regulations can be complex and time-consuming, particularly for SMEs that may not have dedicated compliance teams. Non-compliance can result in legal and financial penalties.
  6. Supply chain challenges: Sustainable sourcing of materials and goods can be difficult for SMEs, particularly if they rely on suppliers with limited sustainable options. This can make it challenging to ensure that the company’s entire supply chain is sustainable.
  7. Competitive pressure: SMEs operating in industries with low levels of sustainability may face competitive pressure to maintain the status quo. This can make it difficult for companies to differentiate themselves based on sustainability.
  8. Greenwashing: Greenwashing is essentially when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as being sustainable than on actually minimising their environmental impact.

To overcome these risks and obstacles, SMEs may need to seek support from sustainability experts, seek out financing options that are geared towards sustainability, and communicate the benefits of sustainability to employees and customers. It may also be helpful to partner with other companies and organizations that share the same sustainability goals.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the National Agency and Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.