SMEs collectively represent more than half of Europe’s GDP and 99% of companies in the EU, they are the bedrock of the European economy and are essential drivers of sustainable transition. However, with businesses under strain, now is the time for Europe to double down on keeping on a sustainable path. That means keeping environmental and societal goals, and SMEs, at the heart of major policy initiatives, from the Capital Markets Union, to the EU recovery plan, to the recently announced SME Relief Package and upcoming energy market reforms.
“Europe has been a positive and guiding force in the sustainable transformation. The current energy crisis and the potential economic downturn represent a concrete risk for Europe’s geopolitical positioning, for its economic resilience, and for its green transition. In this new complex scenario, more should be done,” said Andrea Sironi, Chairman of Assicurazioni Generali. “As Europe seeks to support SMEs through major policy initiatives, we shouldn’t lose sight of SMEs’ sustainability journey. Supporting them means supporting Europe in achieving its sustainability goals”, he concluded.
Generali crowned the 9 ‘Sustainability Heroes’ drawn from over 6,600 small and medium-sized businesses from across Europe, at an event featuring senior policymakers (including Paolo Gentiloni, European Commissioner for Economy, and Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice), Generali Group local CEOs and top management, leading academics and thought leaders, as well as SMEs themselves.
Generali, together with an expert scientific committee with members from academia, business and think-tanks assessed applicants on the grounds of their social, environmental and community commitments, including the implementation of notable sustainability initiatives in their business activities. The aim is that they can become an inspirational model for fellow entrepreneurs and be ambassadors of sustainability.
The event also saw the presentation of a dedicated White Paper produced by SDA Bocconi – School of Management Sustainability Lab. The research, which interviewed over 1,000 European SMEs, highlighted that while more of Europe’s SMEs had implemented sustainable business models, others were falling behind – a worrying polarisation. It also explained that while NRRP plans were boosting efforts from small and medium businesses on their sustainability journey, barriers to progress – such as access to sustainable finance – remain.
The research explores the progress small and medium-sized businesses have made in implementing sustainable business models, the challenges they face, and what the wider policy-making and financial communities can do to create a greener and more inclusive economy.
Generali Group CEO Philippe Donnet commented: “It is a very challenging time for many small and medium-sized businesses that have had to face crises impacting the entire world over recent years. Europe has made great strides in putting environmental goals and social commitments at the heart of the economy. We must continue to push forward, now more than ever. We have to keep SMEs front and center in all major policy initiatives in order to meet the EU’s green and economic ambitions that are at the heart of building a sustainable and resilient future for all.”
Generali Group General Manager, Marco Sesana stated: “This project is part of our ‘Lifetime Partner 24: Driving Growth’ strategy. Our commitment as a responsible insurer is to foster the sustainable transition and SME EnterPRIZE is a flagship project to help achieve this goal. Today in Brussels, at the heart of the European Union – we have brought together experts, policymakers and the SMEs themselves for a discussion on the road ahead while celebrating success. We simply cannot achieve the inclusive and green future that all of us in Europe share, without SMEs.”
The 2022 ‘Sustainability Heroes’ – “doing well by doing good”
Drawn from the over 6,600 SMEs that participated, Generali has recognized the “Sustainability Heroes”: companies selected in the areas of welfare, environment and community, and coming from the nine European countries that have joined the 2022 initiative: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Generali Group Head of Sustainability and Social Responsibility Lucia Silva commented: “To build a more inclusive and greener future, SMEs will be essential. As a responsible insurer, Generali is actively engaged in fostering the sustainable transition and SME EnterPRIZE is our flagship initiative to achieve this goal. The companies that we have recognised today are shining examples that show there’s a way to do business that can contribute to commercial success while being better for the environment and the community. They’re doing well by doing good.”