30% of Italian SMEs believe that sustainability can accelerate our way out of the crisis

Source: ItaSIF

• Over 80% of SMEs in Italy view sustainability as a key component of strategic and investment choices.
• 80% of respondents believe that environmental, social and governance (ESG) assessment is a necessary building block of lending.
• Interviewees deem it indispensable to enhance the disclosure and promotion of sustainable finance.
• These are among the key findings of the survey conducted by the Italian Sustainable Investment Forum (ItaSIF) and presented on the first day of the 9th edition of the SRI Week.

The findings of the “Italian SMEs and Sustainability” survey conducted by ItaSIF in collaboration with BVA Doxa have been presented at the kick-off meeting of the SRI Week.
The survey interviewed 477 enterprises across Italy and showed that SMEs believe that sustainability-related themes are very important, most especially in view of managing the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, there is substantial room for improvement in terms of mainstreaming sustainable finance instruments, mainly in terms of enhancing the promotion of the products currently available on the market and focusing disclosure on the practical benefits, including economic ones, of sustainability policies.
The survey was supported by Iccrea Banca and Intesa Sanpaolo.

Italian SMEs and sustainability: key findings

The COVID-19 pandemic and sustainability
• One in three respondents (and as much as 39% of the SMEs with at least 50 employees) believe that integrating sustainability in the criteria that drive strategic choices will accelerate our way out of the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a matter of fact, in the new social and economic scenario that has come into being as a result of the pandemic, 37% of interviewees foresee an increased focus on ESG themes.

The importance of sustainability: opportunities and challenges
• 80%+ of the SMEs surveyed reported that sustainability is important in strategic and investment choices; over half of the sample is planning on embedding ESG themes in their broader corporate strategy, with environmental themes being the most well-known, appreciated and codified.
• The main benefits of pursuing sustainability initiatives are related to marketing and product strategies (73% of respondents) and to enhanced company reputation and attractiveness (52% of respondents). The challenges of working sustainably are mainly related to higher costs (52% of respondents) and lengthy and cumbersome bureaucracy, for example when it comes to obtaining and maintaining certifications (50% of respondents).

SMEs and sustainable finance
• Most SMEs believe that sustainability is important in finance and lending. Indeed, 80% of respondents reported that financial players should use ESG indicators alongside traditional ones in order to adequately assess creditworthiness; 33% of respondents reported that sustainable projects should benefit from better financing conditions. 70% of interviewees stated that they collect ESG data for internal use, for stakeholders or for public disclosure.
• Still, there is substantial room for improvement in terms of mainstreaming Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI). As a matter of fact, only one in three SMEs considered sustainable finance products and less than 30% of them have adopted sustainability ratings and similar tools or prepared Non-Financial Reporting.
• The main reason for this is that promotion and disclosure are still limited: 70% of interviewees have never been proposed to consider financing sustainable projects. Most of the SMEs surveyed are asking financial players to increase sustainable finance disclosure and highlight success cases and practical economic, financial, reputational, marketing and positioning benefits.
• Banks turn out to be the focal point: most respondents reported that banks play an important role in the choice of financial instruments (41% of respondents) and in the promotion of SRI products (35% of respondents).

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