SMEs want to achieve sustainability through digitalisation

  • Paper-based business processes are the focus of digitisation
  • Legislation and clients’ requirements are also drivers for sustainable action

Nuremberg, 1 February 2023: For 43 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the issue of sustainability has become more important in recent months. For almost one in four SMEs (23 per cent), their own sustainability is already essential - alongside turnover and profitability. These are the findings of a recent online survey conducted by DATEV eG, Germany's third-largest provider of business software. To achieve their own sustainability goals, the companies surveyed primarily rely on digitalising previously paper-based processes.

SMEs focus primarily on environmental sustainability

SMEs are embarking on sustainability initiatives mainly because they feel the urgency has increased significantly. For example, it is important to the respondents to use fewer resources such as paper and electricity (64 per cent), to use renewable energies (53 per cent) and to reduce carbon emissions (48 per cent). External requirements act as an accelerator. For example, 41 per cent of SMEs are now aware of increased demands from customers and suppliers. For more than one in three SMEs (36 per cent), sustainability already plays an important role in winning new business. This urgency will likely increase as a result of the Supply Chain Sourcing Obligations Act (LkSG), which came into force in January. Although SMEs are generally not yet covered by the law due to their number of employees, they are often important suppliers or partners of larger companies to which the law already applies.

Legislation increasingly demands proof of sustainable business practices

Almost one in two businesses (47 per cent) are certain that sustainability will become increasingly important in legislation. With this in mind, one in two SMEs considers it important or very important to obtain relevant funding and certification. On the other hand, SMEs see a need to catch up in terms of sustainability reporting. So far, only 29 per cent consider this to be of high or very high importance. At the same time, only one in four respondents said they were familiar with the topic. A knowledge gap that could have a negative impact: "Under certain conditions, SMEs could also be legally obliged to document and publish information on their environmental, economic and social sustainability on an annual basis as early as the 2026 reporting year," explains Prof. Dr Peter Krug, Chief Markets Officer and Deputy Chairman of the Board of DATEV. The background to this is the new EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). "Even if SMEs are not yet directly affected by the new reporting obligation, they will be so if they are part of the companies' supply chains subject to the reporting obligation. For this reason, SMEs should already familiarise themselves with the more stringent and, in some cases, very complex sustainability requirements of the CSR Directive," emphasises Prof. Dr Peter Krug. "SMEs can also turn to their tax consultants as a first step. In addition to traditional tax advice, some tax offices also offer audits of sustainability activities, sustainability checks and advice on tax benefits for environment-related measures".

Digitising processes to support sustainability

Digitalisation is the main driver for SMEs to implement their own sustainability initiatives. For example, 64 per cent of respondents say that their own sustainability is closely linked to digitalisation. As a result, more than one in three SMEs (36 per cent) want to move much faster than they have in the past, for example, by digitising previously paper-based processes (69 per cent) or using cloud solutions and moving away from own hardware (44 per cent).

About the methodology

On behalf of DATEV, the market research company facit Digital conducted an online survey in October 2022 among more than 300 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Germany. The participants come from various sectors (including trade, crafts, construction, healthcare, hotels and restaurants) and employment levels with and without management functions.

The EU Council approved the CSRD in November 2022. It must now be transposed into national law within the next 18 months.

Photo material of Prof. Dr Peter Krug can be found under the following link:

Picture material: The Executive Board of DATEV eG

About DATEV eG

DATEV eG is the third-largest provider of business software in Germany (IDC Ranking 2020) and one of Europe's leading IT service providers. Founded in 1966, the cooperative of the tax consulting profession has more than 40,000 members. DATEV generated revenues of 1.3 billion euros in its fiscal year 2022. With its software, cloud solutions, and expertise, the Nuremberg-based company provides the basis for digital cooperation between small and medium-sized businesses and tax consultants who oversee their client's business management. DATEV supports 2.8 million companies, self-employed individuals, municipalities, associations, and institutions through this community. With more than 8,500 employees, the company attends to the needs of about 550,000 customers in digitising their commercial processes. Data protection, data security, and tax compliance are top priorities.