The small and medium enterprise (SME) market is not only considered a vitally important business segment as far as South Africa’s economy goes, it is also the sector that often astonishes the most. In the current, green-focused business environment, it would not shock anyone to hear that large enterprises are motivated to operate in a sustainable fashion, but to hear the same of SMEs comes as far more of a surprise.
However, this is exactly what early findings of SME Survey 2015 have determined. The complete survey results are due out mid-year, and it is expected that these will confirm that there is a growing maturity in the SME sector in its approach to green issues.
SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey of SMEs in South Africa and, since 2003, has contributed ground-breaking research into the forces shaping SME competitiveness.
According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal researcher for SME Survey, the last time SMEs were asked whether sustainability was important to their businesses, the responses were extremely non-committal.
“Around nine years ago, the Survey asked SMEs how important environmental sustainability was to them. The responses were so disinterested that we were unable to even provide a measurement in proportional terms. This indicated that, at that time, SMEs felt they had many concerns more important than green issues,” says Goldstuck.
“In the past, then, SMEs obviously viewed sustainability as more of a nice-to-have, rather than a necessity. However, since then, things have changed somewhat. This year, when asked whether green issues were important and whether they believed their businesses must operate in a sustainable fashion, an overwhelming majority said yes.”
A total of 86% of SMEs either agreed or strongly agreed on the importance of sustainability. In total, he adds, only 12% disagreed.
“This indicates a massive swing towards environmentally friendly approaches and is very encouraging news, coming from this sector. It demonstrates a growing awareness from SMEs of the fact that they do not live in a bubble. These entities are clearly beginning to consider the bigger picture and understand that their organisations need to play a part in driving environmental sustainability.”
Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank says, “It is encouraging to see quite a number of SMEs being open-minded about adopting sustainable practices into their business operations. Now that SMEs understand the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility, more needs to be done to help them incorporate these sustainable practices into their core business processes, regardless of their sector.”
“Furthermore, implementing sustainable business practices will give SMEs competitive advantages when dealing with larger corporates which now prefer suppliers that complement their sustainability objectives,” says Ms Nyembe.
Goldstuck adds that part of the reason is the B-BBEE scorecard having the unexpected knock-on effect of driving businesses to become more aware of their responsibilities in terms of the environment.
“The B-BBEE legislation has forced many companies to look at their activities from a much broader perspective, and to think about the role and responsibilities of the business within their community and environment. They are realising that they can no longer just be in it for themselves.”
“Associated with this, there is also a much greater awareness among SMEs of climate change and its environmental impact. SMEs are becoming more conscious of their place in the world and are realising that, even if their own role in the larger sustainability picture is a tiny one, it remains important.”
SME Survey 2015 is sponsored by Forest Technologies powered by Rectron and Standard Bank.