How Are European SMEs Promoting Sustainability?

How do they contribute to Europe’s transition to sustainability?

Few would argue that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do not form the backbone of the European economy. SMEs account for more than half of Europe’s GDP and account for 99% of EU businesses. The second edition of Generali’s SME EnterPrize, a flagship program that examines how SMEs can and do promote a culture of sustainability, has been released. The goal was to demonstrate the importance of SMEs and their unique role as sustainability ambassadors.

As part of the program, Generali and a group of experts, including senior policymakers, top academics, and thought leaders, evaluated over 6,600 SMEs. Finally, nine “Sustainability Heroes” were recognized. During the award ceremony, the SDA Bocconi – School of Management Sustainability Lab distributed a whitepaper on the various ways that sustainable business models are being implemented across Europe.

Generali’s second SME EnterPrize project began with a call for Europe to “have the courage and vision to capitalize on the potential of small and medium-sized businesses.” With businesses struggling, the insurer believes that now is the time for Europe to double down on achieving environmental and social goals. He believes that SMEs should be at the forefront of major policy initiatives such as Capital Markets Union, the EU Recovery Plan, and upcoming energy market reforms.

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At a press conference where he praised the award winners and discussed the findings of the whitepaper report, Marco Sesana, the Generali Group’s general manager, spoke about how important SMEs are to the sustainable transition.

“Small and medium-sized businesses are an important part of our strategy,” he said. “Generali aspires to be Europe’s go-to company for SMEs. But we want to be more than just an insurance company; we want to be a responsible insurance company. This entails ensuring that SMEs are involved in the transition, which is about more than just energy but also about overall sustainability. Today, we’ll discuss small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are succeeding not only financially and economically, but also by doing good.

He stated that these SMEs are approaching the market in a completely different manner than their competitors. As a result, they are emphasizing the critical role they play in keeping Europe’s society united and moving forward. The “Sustainability Heroes” are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have excellent practices that other SMEs can emulate. This will alter the way people talk about sustainability and result in tangible changes across the continent.

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“[…] Now is also a good time to consider what will happen next,” he added. “Because the current crisis, particularly in the energy sector, will be difficult for these small businesses to manage. This is clearly a difficult challenge for them to face. So now is a good time to consider these issues and figure out how to continue working in this field.

“Because it is an important sector for all of Europe’s economies, and because SMEs are one of the most important parts of the European economy… Giving examples and telling good stories is critical because the change is more about how people act than how things work. So, I’d say that the more we tell good stories, tell a good story about change, and demonstrate that you can get a good economic result by doing good social work, the better, because it will help the transition and keep it going.

Furthermore, Lucia Silva, Generali Group’s head of sustainability and social responsibility, stated that because SMEs are the backbone of the European economy, assisting them in making a sustainable transition is assisting Europe as a whole in remaining sustainable. She also discussed Generali’s belief that it is possible to make a genuine difference in ensuring that the EU Commission’s goals of making society more inclusive and green are met.

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She stated that the whitepaper is based on interviews with over 1,000 SMEs and shares their perspectives on sustainability and change. She was most impressed by two key lessons that emerged from this experience.

“The first is that SMEs that are already changing see sustainable change as an opportunity to grow,” she explained. “It is about having a smaller environmental impact. It has to do with increasing employee involvement. However, opportunities for growth in terms of market share, access to new markets and clients, and market share are all important. As a result, I believe this is a significant discovery.

“Another thing we discovered is that small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that aren’t yet on the path to sustainable transformation don’t show clear signs of it. Soon, SMEs will not only have the option, but will be forced to do so. Because there are new rules and regulations, particularly in Europe. Of course, this change will not occur overnight, and there are [several] key players who can greatly assist with the transition. And they must truly collaborate.”

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