Sustainability as an opportunity for your own future


SMEs and corporate sustainability

February 21, 2024, 11:31 am |


Andrea Fellmeth

Contrary to common prejudices, medium-sized companies have a largely positive attitude towards the issue of corporate sustainability. Most organizations have already initiated measures to transform their operations into ecological ones.

Sustainable transformation presents medium-sized enterprises with one of the biggest tasks in the coming years. It requires not only investment in new technologies and infrastructure, but also a change in patterns of thinking and action. Haufe examined in detail the attitudes of SMEs to sustainability in the current study “Corporate Sustainability in SMEs” In September and October 2023, they surveyed CEOs in 36 in-depth interviews and for quantitative validation in 96 online interviews.


The encouraging result: Most SMEs see sustainability primarily as an opportunity for their own future. Overall, the issue of sustainability is approached in a differentiated way and managers can be classified into four types: pioneers, veterans, novices and skeptics.


While the pioneers are intrinsically motivated visionaries who see sustainability as a fundamental element of their corporate strategy, among the veterans sustainable management has become a common corporate practice due to the demands of external stakeholders. Newcomers, on the other hand, have only recently begun to dabble in the subject because upcoming reporting requirements and customer requests demand it. Skeptics perceive sustainability requirements primarily as an organizational and financial burden and fear external pressure to adapt.

Sustainability as a competitive advantage

100 percent of veterans, 84 percent of pioneers and 81 percent of novices agree with the statement “In the long run, it pays for companies to be pacesetters in sustainability Only skeptics have reservations – only a third of them” . see the positive aspects in terms of sustainability.


Almost all medium-sized companies surveyed (98 percent) have already initiated measures to redesign their organizations. Across all types, they are motivated by customer or business partner expectations (39%), securing the company’s future (36%) and its credibility in relation to sustainable business models (35%). Attractiveness as an employer was also most frequently mentioned in the in-depth interviews as a driving force for sustainable management.


When it comes to sustainable transformation, medium-sized companies of all types face the following challenges in particular: current financial risks and uncertainties (34%), lack of customer acceptance of additional costs (31%) and excessive bureaucracy (31%). .

Sustainability = ecology

The research shows that when it comes to sustainability, CEOs in medium-sized companies think primarily about relevant environmental measures and, in a graduated way, about social measures such as expanding further training, promoting diversity and corporate social responsibility. Governance in the sense of corporate governance, innovation, finance, risk management and compliance is rather marginalized in all typologies.


“Our study ‘Corporate Sustainability in SMEs’ shows that medium-sized companies have largely recognized sustainability as an opportunity for the future and competitiveness of their companies and have initiated measures to restructure their organizations,” says Christoph Herzog, editor-in-chief of haufe.de/sustainability , the results of the study “The medium economy is not a monolithic bloc, but approaches the question of sustainability in different ways. Many see regulations as a bureaucratic challenge, but have found ways around it. the.”


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