SMEs and sustainability: Why act now?

SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide and global environmental and social challenges can only be addressed appropriately with small business sector fully involved. Given the growing amount of regulatory and business requirements related to sustainable practices and reporting in SME sector- legislation, investors, supply chain, clients, talent- it is important to address the topic in a short term perspective to future proof small businesses.

Accountants role as trusted advisers, creates the opportunity and a responsibility to engage with sustainability in the small business sector and take action - from raising awareness to supporting sustainable transformation of business models and reporting on non-financial information. Accountants should take the lead and to assist in making real, effective change at the heart of SMEs. Every step counts and ACCA are here to support.

About the series

In this series of publications, we explored the views of the accountancy professionals in SME about sustainability,  developed detailed practical guidance to navigate SMEs in their sustainability journey, including  the resources and tools that they need to take action, showcased the examples of SMEs championing sustainability.

Here are the publications you will find on this page:

  • How SMEs can create a more sustainable world - A playbook for accountants in practice and finance teams in small and medium-sized organisations co-branded with our strategic partner Chartered accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ).

    Our report How SMEs can create a more sustainable world A playbook for accountants in practice and finance teams in small and medium-sized organisations (PDF, 46.6 MB), details the benefits that sustainable actions can have for both business success and the environment. It sets out practical steps for embedding sustainable practices within organisations, case studies from across the world, and links to a variety of tools and resources that can support SMEs and SMPs in their sustainability journey. The Practical publication provides accountants with guidance and calls to action around:

    • Reshaping business models and reimagining the future: Explaining what sustainable development is, setting out the business case for sustainability, and illustrating the role of the profession.
    • Acting with urgency on climate change in particular: Guidance on how to have the conversation about climate change, illustrating the need for urgent action, and explaining what is happening globally.
    • Considering sustainability in business operations and every decision made: Demonstrating different ways action can be taken to address challenges such as reducing emission levels (including how to set targets and measure emissions), waste, and inequality.
    • Adopting sustainability goals: Explaining science-based targets, the Paris Agreement, the United Nation’s SDGs, and create ambitious strategies for sustainable future growth.
    • Bringing integrity to the process: How to ensure integrity in the transformation to sustainability by taking a principles-based approach
  • Accountants and SMEs creating a sustainable world. SME community views.

    Our report Accountants and SMEs creating a sustainable world: SME community views (PDF, 2.6 MB), details the results of a global survey and virtual community discussion with small business community . The purpose of this combined analysis is to understand what SMEs and other stakeholders involved in the SME ecosystem, think about sustainability: what it means to them and to the organisations they work with, whether any actions are currently being taken, the barriers against this, and its general importance as we move ahead.

    Our survey results reveal that only 10% of finance professionals in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and 8% of small and medium-sized practitioners (SMPs) have significant involvement in tackling climate change as part of their role. There is a clear call to action for the accountancy professionals in SME to take the lead and engage with sustainability agenda more actively.

  • Accountants and SMEs creating a sustainable world. Stories.

    Our report Accountants and SMEs creating a sustainable world: Stories, (PDF, 5.1 MB), details case studies drawn from all over the world, which offer a wealth of ideas, real experiences, and recommendations for SMEs at any stage of the sustainability journey. We hope that this collection will inspire SMEs and SMPs to make the changes necessary to protect our world and future proof your business.

  • ACCA and Sage White paper: call to action to governments and large organisations to support SMEs

    The white paper Think small first: Enabling effective climate account by SMEs developed by ACCA in partnership with Sage and the ICC highlights how providing standardised SME-friendly reporting frameworks could unlock significant progress on the journey to Net Zero. It also suggests that governments, policymakers and large businesses must acknowledge the specific challenges and reporting burdens faced by SMEs and provide support to small businesses. Four integrated principles are suggested to take on this mission:

    1. Standardise
    2. Simplify
    3. Automate
    4. Enable

Let us continue this journey together

Embedding sustainability is a journey and we are here to support you in that journey. In addition to this practical series, we invite the accountancy professionals in SME and SMPs to explore other ACCA resources focused on sustainability that will be updated with new material on a regular basis:

And ACCA Certificates that will support you in gaining further in-depth understanding of sustainability:

Register for ACCA’s Accounting for the Future global virtual sessions and join the two sessions where we discuss sustainability in SME sector:

  • Sustainable SMEs aim high: how ambitious finance professionals can lead business transformation, where are discussing key messages of the Playbook and sharing global video stories
  • Golden opportunity of SMP sustainability services, where we discuss sustainability as a service line for SMPs