Generali hosted the closing event of the third edition of SME EnterPRIZE, the Group’s flagship initiative crowing the 10 “Sustainability Heroes”, and unveiled the new edition of the White Paper developed in collaboration with SDA Bocconi, which also voices calls for more action from policymakers and financial institutions.
The ceremony saw the attendance of senior European policymakers – including Valdis Dombrovskis, the Executive Vice President of the European Commission for An Economy that Works for People and European Commissioner for Trade, Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner for Economy, Martina Dlabajová, the Co-chair of the SME Intergroup, European Parliament, and Pina Picierno, the EU Parliament Vice-President – academic leaders, Generali’s senior leadership, as well as SMEs themselves.
This edition also hosted a message from Marcos Neto, the Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau of Policy and Programme Support.
Europe’s SMEs call for more action from policymakers and financial institutions
This year’s edition of the White Paper developed in collaboration with SDA Bocconi – School of Management Sustainability Lab, built on the basis of discussions with over 1,000 SMEs from across Europe, has captured the challenges and opportunities that SMEs are facing and has suggested policy initiatives for Europe’s decision makers to implement.
The research confirmed the robust growth of SMEs engaged in a sustainable transformation and underlined the benefits of adopting sustainable business practices. It also voiced SMEs’ calls to policymakers and financial institutions for a clear legislative sustainability framework and a boost to increase resilience and innovation.
The full White Paper, which includes deep dives on each country taking part in Generali’s SME EnterPRIZE initiative, can be downloaded here.
Philippe Donnet, Generali Group CEO, said: “Much has happened since 2021, when Generali launched SME EnterPRIZE, its flagship project to promote a culture of sustainability among European small-and medium-sized enterprises and support them as they integrate it into their businesses. While these companies had to endure significant challenges related to the energy crisis, supply chain disruptions, the inflation and the economic and geopolitical uncertainties, the third White Paper issued by Generali and SDA Bocconi underlines that the number of European SMEs that are embracing sustainable business models keeps increasing, and that the business case for doing so remains very strong.
However, there are still substantial obstacles and barriers preventing more companies from following the same path. Therefore, it is key that policymakers act to reduce bureaucracy and raise awareness, while larger private enterprises must offer not only products or services but also their know-how. It is a complex process that will take time, and we are not there yet. But we must spare no effort – as it is in the interest of all of us to build a stronger, safer, more prosperous and sustainable Europe.”
Stefano Pogutz, Professor of Practice of Corporate Sustainability and Director full-time MBA program, SDA Bocconi, said: “Our research highlights that the approach of European SMEs to sustainability remains solid, even during the challenging past years. In 2023, 44% of European SMEs adopted a more formalized approach to sustainability or are in the process of adopting one, up 3% from the previous year, and up 10% from a similar 2020 pan-European investigation. We consider these findings positive. Despite the challenges faced in recent years by SMEs, such as the pandemic and the recovery, the inflation and raw materials and energy costs increase, and the war in Ukraine, we observe a significant resilience. Anyhow, for the sustainability transition to happen, we need to onboard the remaining companies, still undecided or reluctant to embrace the evolution. In order to do so, we must work on alleviating the barriers still faced by these companies, such as lack of institutional support or lack of resources, and, on the other hand, explain the benefits gained by SMEs that embraced the transition.
Positive benefits, in fact, are obtained in all the areas: organizational, relational, market and competitive domains. Just a couple of examples: 76% of SMEs experienced either resource or energy efficiency increase. This goes straight to the bottom line, in terms of reduced costs. And 68% accessed new markets, with positive results in terms of revenues. In order to onboard undecided and laggards, we must explain and convince them, through these results, that sustainability is not just a cost, but an investment with positive returns.”
Celebrating the 2023 Sustainability Heroes
Generali’s third SME EnterPRIZE event in Brussels celebrated the ten “Sustainability Heroes”, companies drawn from the over 7,600 SMEs that participated in the areas of Environment and Social, and coming from the European countries that have joined the initiative: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
Generali Group General Manager, Marco Sesana said: “Our ‘Lifetime Partner 24: Driving Growth’ strategy has sustainability as its originator. It is a lens for how we see our business and our relationship with the communities that we are part of. As Europe’s leading insurer we have been raising awareness on the challenges that SMEs face for three years and have reached thousands of SMEs across Europe to find the most sustainable ways of working, highlighting businesses that are doing well by doing good. At the same time, we have championed research to understand the challenges and opportunities SMEs face. The three years of SME EnterPRIZE have underlined that there is still a strong commitment from SMEs to make their business more sustainable, despite a challenging environment. We will continue to support their journey to build an inclusive, green and sustainable European economy.”