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Generali and SDA Bocconi’s White Paper, a guide to the sustainable transition of SMEs

The second edition of the White Paper “Fostering sustainability In Small and Medium-sized Enterprises,” promoted by Generali and developed by SDA Bocconi – School of Management Sustainability Lab, explores the progress Europe’s SMEs have made in building out sustainable businesses, the challenges they face, and what the wider policy and financial communities can do to help.

The research publishes results from a wide-ranging survey of SME business owners on their approach to sustainability. It also analyses how the EU’s National Recovery and Resilience Plans may include initiatives that can provide SMEs with support, and how financial products are evolving that may also benefit SMEs in their sustainability efforts.

Key highlights

SME Survey

  • There’s a “growing polarization” between companies with sustainability plans and those without
  • 41 percent of SME owners surveyed said they have put in place a sustainability strategy or they will in the near future
  • 43 percent said they had no plan at all to put in place green and social business practices, up from 20 percent two years ago
  • A majority of survey respondents reported that having an environmental and social business strategy in place resulted in better customer satisfaction, better reputation, more efficiency and even increased market share.

National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs)

  • Member states are exceeding the target set for initiatives geared towards a transition to a greener economy
  • SMEs may benefit indirectly from infrastructure and sector-specific initiatives
  • SMEs may benefit directly from initiatives intended to support individual companies in their transition.

Access to sustainable finance

  • The world of finance is developing an unprecedented number of ESG products
  • The number of SMEs involved is still limited, although there are examples of good practices
  • Credit Guarantee Schemes, Basket Bonds, and insurance products have the potential to offer financing options for SMEs.

Discover more in the White Paper:

Full document 8448 KBDownload
Presentation 237 KBDownload


The White Paper “Fostering sustainability In Small and Medium-sized Enterprises,” promoted by Generali and developed by SDA Bocconi – School of Management Sustainability Lab, examined the relationship between sustainability and SMEs in eight European countries (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland) in the three main areas of welfare, environment and community.

The research explored the main areas of action, the benefits and factors promoting the implementation of sustainability initiatives, as well as the barriers that hamper SMEs’ adoption of a sustainable behaviour.

In particular, the White Paper highlights that:

  • SMEs are at the heart of the European economy. They account for nearly the total number of firms operating in the European Union and generate over half of total value added. SMEs are also key players in European and global value chains. For all these reasons, they are essential in the European sustainable transition
  • Structured sustainability projects enable small and medium-sized enterprises to access certified supply chains and global markets, as well as dedicated funding and resources
  • Although many European SMEs already put in place sustainability initiatives, especially in the areas of welfare, environment and community engagement, their approach to sustainability is still informal and not structured, with good space and margins for growth
  • Education and capacity building, sustainable finance, policy framework, demand-side instruments, disclosure on materiality & assessment are the five key drivers to foster SMEs sustainable transition, concretely expressed in specific initiatives and tools
  • It is essential to further develop the initiatives along the five key drivers, creating an “ecosystem” where policy makers, large companies, the financial system, academia and research are called to create public-private partnerships to support SMEs.

Discover more in the White Paper:

Full document 40068 KBDownload
Presentation 1605 KBDownload