As world leaders discuss the climate crisis at COP 26, small business owners have issued a reality check about their own progress with sustainability plans, according to a survey from ACCA UK (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and The Corporate Finance Network (CFN).
Small business owners said the number one issue holding businesses back from making their operations more sustainable is lack of time and the resources to implement environmental strategies.
Company bosses also highlighted their own lack of expertise and understanding of where to start with sustainability plans, as well as the fact that the issue is not a priority for the leaders of small enterprises.
Accountants reported that just 4% of clients have requested support from them on sustainability issues.
The SME Tracker survey reflects the challenges faced by small business owners trying to be more conscious of sustainability, while still tackling a multitude of critical issues caused by the pandemic.
These include battling supply chain concerns, hiring skilled talent and managing financial pressures due to rising inflation and the cost of finance.
The SME Tracker, which reports what small businesses tell their accountants, reported data from accountants representing 16,300 SME clients and ran until November 9.
Businesses also reported that they are still facing challenges obtaining the right financial backing from traditional outlets now that government-backed loans have wound down. A figure of 65% of practices said that clients have struggled to access overdrafts in the last three months, which jumped from 57% in August.
In fact, accountants believe that almost 20% of clients haven’t received enough financial support from the government to enable them to recover.
Despite this, 40% of small businesses report that they are back to pre-Covid levels of productivity or turnover. And almost one in four (23%) are expecting to take on new people in the next 6-12 months.
Owners are still facing issues with their mental health, with almost 20% reporting that they are feeling more stressed and anxious, and 8% saying they are not sleeping.
Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK said: ‘Small business owners are consumed by urgent issues at the moment and fighting to keep their operations running. It’s understandable that they are not focused on sustainability, but we would encourage them to try to take a longer-term view and build that resilience into their organisation.
‘We need to see a renewed focus from government and large business on the wider support landscape to enable smaller businesses to build sustainability into their recovery plans and to offer help for them to understand how they can contribute.’
Kirsty McGregor, founder of the Corporate Finance Network, said: ‘Accountants have a great opportunity to become a source of expertise in this area, so that they can educate their business owner clients to think about how to tackle sustainability.
‘Many small companies are still struggling to get back to full strength and it’s disappointing to hear that businesses are finding routine debt financing is still proving to be a challenge. Governments should be doing more to raise awareness of financial options open to small businesses and encourage the major banks to use digital processes which make the lending decision more efficient and effective.’