SMEs are now three times less likely to prioritise sustainability

Just 14% of Irish Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs ) plan to increase investment in sustainability practices and solutions such as water conservation, energy conservation and recycling in the next 12 months due to rising costs pressures, according to a new Irish Water survey of SME attitudes to conservation and sustainability, developed in partnership with the Small Firms Association.

Despite 42% of Irish SMEs believing being seen to pursue sustainable practices is important to their existing customers, and more than half agreeing sustainable businesses attract more customers, only 1 in 10 Irish SMEs are now actively committed to sustainability and environmental issues within their businesses. In Q4 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, SME respondents were found to be three times more likely to be actively committed to sustainability and environmental issues.

Conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes (B&A ), Irish Water’s SME Sentiment Survey interviewed over 350 SMEs, seeking their opinion on the importance of investing in sustainability for their businesses and examining the barriers that currently exist to investment in the area.

The survey found three-quarters (76% ) of SME’s identified cost concerns and rising costs as the stand-out barrier to investing more in sustainability practices. Too much resource required (32% ) was also named as an important factor discouraging investment.

When asked about which sustainability and conservation practices they were currently pursuing or plan to do in the next year in a meaningful way, unsurprisingly energy saving (88% ) and recycling (88% ) are now receiving the most attention. Seven out of 10 SMEs are engaging or plan to engage in water related conservation activities.

Commenting, west of Ireland native Geoffrey Bourke, Irish Water spokesperson said: “The B&A research shows Irish SMEs are pursuing or plan to pursue several conservation activities in a meaningful way including energy saving, recycling and water conservation.”

“However, cost and inflationary pressures accentuated by the Ukraine war look to have made it more difficult for them.”

“Irish Water understands the challenges being faced by small businesses in the current climate and we have developed a suite of easy-to-access and free initiatives to help SMEs reduce costs and become more sustainable when it comes to their use of water, which also has a positive impact on their energy costs. Our first-of-its-kind globally Water Stewardship Programme is a comprehensive training programme which helps organisations lower their water use, thereby reducing operating costs and protecting the environment,” he added.

Irish Water also recently launched its Annual Certification Scheme which enables any company showing commitment to water stewardship to join an award-winning network of leading firms across Ireland, with access to training events, research opportunities and best practice tools in water stewardship.

“Smaller companies can also opt to take the water conservation pledge, demonstrating their commitment to water sustainability and availing of the great free resources on the Irish Water website.”

“We would encourage all SMEs to visit our website to find out how they can help conserve water and reduce costs.”

Responsibility for environmental and sustainability programmes falls to the owner or manager in three quarters (74% ) of SMEs according to the survey. There is little evidence of a move towards these tasks being undertaken by a specialist person with the proportion saying that no one is responsible actually increasing in the past three years, and just one in ten (11% ) businesses having accessed external expertise on sustainability in the past 12 months.

Commenting, Elizabeth Bowen, Acting Director, Small Firms Association said small business owners care about the environment and have already begun taking action to mitigate their impact. Nevertheless, in the face of many competing concerns and resource constraints, prioritising sustainability is a challenge for small businessowners.

“SFA members welcome initiatives such as Irish Water’s Water Stewardship Programme and are also looking for additional supports from government and their local authorities to overcome the barriers that small businesses face.

“SFA’s MentorsWork new consultancy offering, provides hands-on consultancy services focusing on addressing sustainability needs in businesses up to 250 employees in every sector of the economy. The new consultancy offering is now open to applications along with our MentorsWork 12-week programme,” she said.


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