Finland’s SME Sustainability Barometer: Employees are the most important aspect of sustainability for SME employers


Over 80 per cent of Finnish small and medium-sized employer enterprises highlight employee wellbeing, occupational safety and competence development as a priority in their sustainability work. In addition to climate impacts, SMEs emphasise biodiversity and other environmental protection. These findings are drawn from Finland’s first SME sustainability barometer. The barometer was conducted by Aula Research and commissioned by the Confederation of Finnish Industries, EK.

Nine out of ten SME employers feel that sustainability is an essential issue from the perspective of their business. Company values and customer demands are mentioned most frequently as motives for promoting sustainability.

According to the barometer, employer image is one of the key benefits obtained through sustainability. This is how corporate responsibility also contributes to solving one the largest bottlenecks for SMEs, labour shortage.

Companies would like to do even more – two out of three SMEs mention limited resources as the biggest challenge in their sustainability work. According to Elina Sonninen, Corporate Responsibility Specialist at EK, companies need support especially for developing sustainability indicators, data collection and reporting:

“SMEs are highly motivated in advancing corporate responsibility. This aspiration should be supported in all ways possible, for example, by sharing good practices and creating tools and guidelines. The open feedback provided in the barometer also shows there is a huge need for this type of support.”

According to Petri Vuorio, Director, Entrepreneurship and Business Environment at EK, the Confederation of Finnish Industries wants to help the SME sector realise that companies’ sustainability is, in an increasingly tangible way, becoming an evaluation criterion also for financiers and investors:

“The EU is preparing a number of binding regulations for the finance sector regarding sustainability reporting that will require financiers to assess the climate impacts of financial instruments and, presumably, other aspects of corporate responsibility in the future. In the future, this will most likely be reflected in the cost and availability of financing for SMEs, with more sustainable companies doing better in both areas than others. In the future, SMEs should also be prepared to present financiers with a sustainability report and their carbon footprint alongside their traditional financial statements.”

Key results in figures:

  • 92 per cent of SME sector employers consider sustainability to be a very or fairly important factor from the perspective of their business. This perception was uniform regardless of the company size or the business sector. In practice, everyone felt that sustainability would become even more important in the future.
  • 81 per cent highlighted employee wellbeing, occupational safety and competence development as the most important aspects of sustainability. Environmental responsibility also scored highly (climate change: 38%, biodiversity and other environmental protection: 27%).
  • The key motives for sustainability were company values (55%), customer demands (43%), brand building (29%) and the societal climate (26%).
  • Only 1 per cent of companies felt that access to financing would be an important reason to focus on sustainability at the moment. 31 per cent estimated that sustainability would create benefits in the future from the perspective of access to financing.
  • Focusing on corporate responsibility is expected to create benefits in the future, especially in terms of good reputation (87%), customer satisfaction (80%) and employer image (73%).
  • SMEs limited resources were seen as the main challenge (68%) in their sustainability work. Companies need help especially in developing sustainability indicators (54%), carbon footprint calculation (42%) and corporate responsibility reporting (34%).
  • 44 per cent of the SME employers have set sustainability objectives. Of these, 91 per cent also monitor their implementation.

The barometer was carried out by Aula Research and commissioned by the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK. The barometer’s target group consisted of Finnish employers in the SME sector employing between 10 and 250 people. A total of 504 corporate decision-makers, representing the various sectors, personnel size classes and geographical areas in a representative way, responded to the barometer between 27 September and 28 October 2021.

View the results of the SME Sustainability Barometer in infographics.