Sustainability key to business growth for three in five Singapore SMEs

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    01 March 2022

    UOB’s suite of sustainable financing solutions aims to support SMEs looking to seize opportunities in the green economy


    Three in five (60 per cent) small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore believe in the importance of incorporating sustainable practices in their businesses, according to the UOB SME Outlook Study 20221. They said having sustainability core to their business will help to improve the company’s reputation (54 per cent), make it easier for them to work with multinational corporations (MNCs) who care about their sustainability goals (45 per cent) and enable them to help build an environmentally- and socially-responsible Singapore (44 per cent).


    On their sustainability journey, SMEs are integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into various aspects of their business. The key ESG-related practices SMEs plan to implement include clear operational policies and processes such as risk management and financial control (45 per cent), more efficient use of resources to minimise waste (43 per cent) and use of energy-efficient equipment and technologies (35 per cent).


    In addition, SMEs are responding to the call for a more sustainable future by aligning their initiatives to the Singapore Green Plan 2030. In particular, almost all of the wholesale trade companies (98 per cent) in the study plan to do so by stepping up recycling efforts (60 per cent), training employees in climate risk or environmental protection (60 per cent) and switching to energy-efficient sources to reduce carbon footprint (56 per cent).


    Companies in construction and infrastructure (98 per cent) as well as real estate and hospitality (98 per cent) are also actively aligning their practices to the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Construction and infrastructure companies are focused on increasing their recycling efforts (41 per cent) and applying for green certification schemes (39 per cent), while real estate and hospitality companies are looking mainly to reduce packaging waste (42 per cent) such as single-use plastic.


    More support needed on the sustainability journey

    When implementing sustainable practices, small businesses2 face challenges such as insufficient knowledge to identify and to execute relevant initiatives for the organisation (40 per cent), as well as inadequate non-financial support such as sustainability training (33 per cent). They are also concerned about the potential increase in cost for end customers (31 per cent) and inadequate financial support from the government and banks for such initiatives (31 per cent). In comparison, medium-sized businesses3 said inadequate non-financial support (47 per cent), insufficient knowledge (46 per cent) and the possible impact to short-term revenue (44 per cent) are their key barriers to adopting sustainable practices.


    Mr Lawrence Loh, Head of Group Business Banking, UOB, said, “While SMEs are increasingly embracing sustainability as an important business growth driver, many of them have limited resources and lack the knowledge to implement relevant strategies and practices. They are also not quite sure of how they can do so in a cost-efficient manner. At UOB, we draw on our expertise to bridge this gap by offering advisory and suitable financial products that will support SMEs in making the transition to a greener business and to forge a sustainable future for all.”


    The Bank currently has four sustainable financing frameworks to support businesses in the areas of real estate, circular economy, green trade finance, as well as those contributing to the creation of smart and sustainable cities.


    Through the Sustainability Innovation Programme run by UOB’s innovation accelerator, The FinLab, SMEs can also gain insights into how they can build sustainable businesses with the right technology solutions. This form of support, which goes beyond banking, adds to the suite of sustainable financing solutions UOB offers to address SMEs’ needs.


    Seizing opportunities as Singapore scales up green initiatives

    In advancing their sustainability journey, SMEs are also on the lookout for collaboration opportunities with industry bodies, government-linked companies or large businesses (43 per cent). They also want connections to industry peers and ecosystem partners (39 per cent), as well as training or solution providers (38 per cent) to deepen their capabilities.


    At the recent Singapore Budget 2022, the Government announced that it will issue $35 billion of green bonds by 2030 to fund green infrastructure projects and publish a Green Bond framework later this year. The injection of fresh capital to anchor Singapore as a green finance hub is also aimed at attracting issuers, capital and investors. The increased liquidity and focus will drive new opportunities for SMEs, from collaborations with government agencies or large corporates to develop or implement green technologies, to knowledge transfer within a larger ecosystem of industry players.


    With a continued focus on building a low-carbon economy, Singapore has also detailed plans to raise carbon tax in phases to reach net zero targets around 2050.


    Mr Eric Lian, Managing Director, Group Commercial Banking, UOB, said, “Pressing global issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought environmental and social considerations to the fore. With tougher net zero targets now front and centre in the minds of government and industry leaders, large corporates may start to move faster on working with SMEs that are compliant with sustainability standards within their supply chains. At UOB, we will continue to simplify sustainable financing for SMEs looking to gain a competitive edge to build resilient businesses.”

    1 The survey was conducted from late December 2021 to early January 2022 among 800 local SMEs with revenue less than S$100 million to understand the business outlook and key expectations among SMEs in Singapore.

    2 Defined as those with turnover of less than S$10 million.

    3 Defined as those with turnover of between S$10 million and S$100 million.

    Click here to download our report on the sustainability-related findings from the UOB SME Outlook Study 2022.


    About UOB
    UOB is a leading bank in Asia. Operating through its head office in Singapore and banking subsidiaries in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, UOB has a global network of around 500 offices in 19 countries and territories in Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. Since its incorporation in 1935, UOB has grown organically and through a series of strategic acquisitions. Today, UOB is rated among the world’s top banks: Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA- by both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.


    For nearly nine decades, UOB has adopted a customer-centric approach to create long-term value by staying relevant through its enterprising spirit and doing right by its customers. UOB is focused on building the future of ASEAN – for the people and businesses within, and connecting with, ASEAN.


    The Bank connects businesses to opportunities in the region with its unparalleled regional footprint and leverages data and insights to innovate and create personalised banking experiences and solutions catering to each customer’s unique needs and evolving preferences. UOB is also committed to forging a sustainable future through working with its stakeholders to create positive environmental impact, fostering social inclusiveness and pursuing economic progress. UOB believes in being a responsible financial services provider and is steadfast in its support of art, social development of children and education, doing right by its communities and stakeholders.


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