Corporate sustainability: saving energy is top motivation for Australian SMEs

Published on 06/10/2021 by Laura Burgess

Sustainability is important to both consumers and employees, but what does it mean to company managers? Capterra surveyed nearly 300 managers of small to midsize enterprises (SMEs with less than 250 employees), across a range of different industries. 

AU Corporate sustainability
We wanted to know if the companies these managers work for are investing in environmental sustainability and what measures they may take in going green. Full survey methodology can be found at the bottom of this page.

What is corporate sustainability?

Corporate sustainability is when sustainable actions related to environmental, social, and economic issues are taken to improve the processes, value, and reputation of a company. Examples include developing a recycling program, water and electric conservation, and fair working conditions for staff. Whilst there are many areas to focus on, a variety of sustainability software systems may help corporations to implement or better organise their sustainable practices.

All managers surveyed by Capterra said their company takes sustainable action

A staggering 100% of managers (or 273 participants) surveyed by Capterra said that their company has sustainable measures in place.

Sustainability can be quite a broad topic so we asked bosses which areas of the subject their company choose to focus upon. 78% of managers said their firm makes investments in environmental sustainability. This may include practices such as reducing waste, preventing pollution, adopting clean energy, using sustainable materials, and making products that are sustainable. 

61% of managers said that social initiatives, such as health and social equity, labour rights, decent working conditions, and diversity and inclusion were also important in the work environment. 

Recycling is the most popular sustainability practice

Recycling doesn’t just stop at home as 67% of the companies responding to our survey said they implemented a recycling program. 66% of businesses use software to reduce paper waste whilst 59% take sustainable action by reducing the need for plastic and aim to be plastic-free.

AU Forms of sustainability practices bar graph

54% of companies said they will continue to invest in recycling practices during the next 18 months, and 48% will carry on investing in reducing their carbon footprint. This includes making changes such as reassessing and adjusting lighting, scheduled heat, and air conditioning use. A further 48% of companies also said they would proceed with investing in product waste management, such as reusable shopping bags and water bottles.

As many regions across the country have been or are currently in lockdown during the pandemic, 47% of companies say they will invest more in remote work policies. Initially, the COVID-19 crisis left many office employees no choice but to telework. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), more Aussies are taking up the opportunity to work from home. But with the uncertainty of the pandemic, remote working looks like it is here for the long run as managers are preparing for it to last beyond the pandemic.

Only 2% of companies said that they do not have any plans to invest in sustainability practices in the future. Whether these companies find the idea of corporate sustainability daunting or they do not know where to start, sustainability software may help managers to implement action plans across many different areas of the business. 

Saving on energy and costs drives investment in corporate sustainability

Corporate sustainability is important for all companies as it is an opportunity for businesses to positively contribute to society. As all of the managers surveyed by Capterra said their company invests in sustainability practices, what exactly are the main reasons behind this?

According to the bosses we spoke to, the top three reasons their company invests in corporate sustainability include saving energy (45%), saving money (40%), and being part of a positive cause (36%).

One of the key ways for a business to be profitable is by cutting back on resource consumption. It seems that saving energy and saving money, therefore, go hand in hand.

AU Reasons for corporate sustainability infographic

In their sustainability toolkit for businesses, NSW Business Chamber says: ‘Reducing energy, water and waste consumption in your organisation makes great business sense. It can save money, minimise climate change risk, enhance business image and improve customer and staff satisfaction.’

The Australian government has also invested $11.7 million into its Business Energy Advice Program, which advises small businesses (of six to 20 staff) on how to improve their energy deals and become more energy efficient. This helps companies to find out if they are paying too much in comparison to other enterprises within their industry.

Did you know?

Tracking is a huge part of measuring sustainability performance. Tools such as environmental sustainability software can help companies to monitor renewable energy sources, reduce harmful waste, and reduce operational costs. The tool may help to streamline processes for reporting on key sustainability metrics and also provide auditors with easier access to all records.

64% of employees’ sustainability initiatives were implemented by companies

In our previous article as part of a series, we found that Australians highly value sustainability in the workplace. 64% of companies surveyed by Capterra said their staff came up with sustainability initiatives, which were then implemented. 26% of respondents said employees’ sustainability suggestions were not implemented, and only 10% said their staff did not come up with any sustainability ideas at all.

With a large number of businesses listening to staff about sustainable initiatives, who within the company is responsible for them? 45% of companies said they have a sustainability team, 20% said human resources (HR) runs sustainable practices, and 18% said that management is in charge.

What is a corporate green team?

Green teams are a group of employees or a committee within a company who are passionate about corporate sustainability. The goal is to make their company’s operations environmentally friendly and to educate other employees and also the community about sustainability initiatives. Employees are given the green light to find new ideas and efficient measures that will benefit both enterprise and environment.

The idea of the ‘conscious consumer’ is also on the rise as, nowadays, shoppers are taking the time to research both the company behind the label and the quality of the product itself before buying. People want to know how and where a product was made and whether it is ethical and ecological. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that as sustainability becomes more mainstream, companies are concerned about their reputation for both consumers and employees.

76% of the managers we surveyed say that they measure the success of their sustainability efforts on customer satisfaction, whilst 58% say they look at employee satisfaction. However, 48% of survey respondents say brand image and reputation are a way of gauging how successful their sustainability practices are.

Reputation management software may make it easier for companies to stay on top of monitoring and tracking what is publicly being said about their enterprise on social media and in the press. Marketing teams can measure and analyse consumers’ responses to campaigns and use this information to improve upon future media appearances. Survey software enables marketers to run polls and questionnaires for further market research as a way of engaging with and measuring customer satisfaction. Both types of software tools are useful for brand image.

Advantages of investing in corporate sustainability

Corporate sustainability has many advantages for businesses of all sizes. It may create a responsible business reputation, attract positive media attention, improve employee engagement, and save on operational costs, to name but a few benefits. 

When we asked managers what advantages their company had experienced as a result of sustainability investments, 55% said ‘cost savings’, which was closely followed by ‘the positive change in brand reputation’ (50%). Interestingly, 44% of respondents noticed that there was an increase in employee morale, and 40% said there was higher customer retention. Only 2% thought that there was no noticeable benefit of investing in corporate sustainability.

 Benefits of investing in sustainability infographic

Concerns SME managers have investing in sustainability

Despite the positive results businesses may have when implementing sustainability initiatives, survey respondents also noted the downsides. Even though most managers said they save on costs, 32% of bosses said that ‘high costs’ are one of the initial challenges of investing in sustainability.

Nearly half of those we surveyed (48%) said, however, that they receive funding or government assistance for their sustainable actions. Environmental awards and grants are available from state and local governments, most notably the Landcare award and the Banksia Foundation award for sustainable companies. Other local areas may also offer awards in recognition of companies’ environmental initiatives.

Comparatively, 44% of managers said they did not have any financial aid, whilst 8% were ‘not sure,’ which highlights that it may not be easy for every SME to receive financial help. Trying to become more environmentally friendly may involve expensive up-front costs, but it is important to implement a plan, monitor the progress of the initiatives, and remember the long-term goals.

Other concerns SMEs managers have with investing in sustainability include:

  • Difficulty in measuring success (24%)
  • The business model needs to change to comply with sustainable goals (21%)
  • Hard to keep up with government regulations (13%)

When it comes to environmental sustainability and managing the impact a business may have on the environment, the Australian government has environmental protection laws in place. Each requirement may differ but the business type and the state in which it is located and operates determines which laws and regulations are applicable.

74% of Aussie companies use sustainability software

74% of managers who have implemented sustainability measures indicate that they use software tools to support their actions. The most popular is waste management software (38%), which is closely followed by energy management software (37%). Both allow companies to manage waste and energy inventories, devices, billing, scheduling, and safety standards.

34% of bosses surveyed by Capterra praised remote work software, which has especially helped employees adapt to teleworking during the COVID-19 era. Such tools provide networking systems that enable staff to stay in communication via video conferencing and messaging, for example. Remote working software can also include cloud storage, task and project management systems, and remote team management applications.

Other common tools used by companies include fundraising software (33%), supply chain software (31%) and intranet software (22%). In most cases, managers say that using sustainability software, in general, helps to save money (47%), enables the organisation of their sustainable actions (50%), and overall helps to save time (56%). 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected corporate sustainability?

Only 9% of the managers we surveyed admitted that they had no sustainability measures in place prior to the COVID-19 crisis, meaning that a huge 91% of companies did. The pandemic actually encouraged 45% of Australian companies to invest more in sustainability practices. 29% decreased their investments in sustainability due to the global crisis, whilst 20% said the pandemic did not affect their business sustainability investments at all. 

AU How the pandemic affected sustainability, pie chart

Again, 100% of Aussie managers responding to our survey prove that corporate sustainability is important and here to stay. 89% say they plan to ‘keep the sustainable measures in place’ and 16% say they ‘will keep them and invest in more’ after the pandemic.

Capterra’s survey highlights that environmental sustainability is the biggest concern for Australian companies as most primarily invest in energy efficiency. We found that the environmental sustainability practices of a company are really important to employees too.

Incorporating ‘green teams’ dedicated to taking action and the use of sustainability tools may help enterprises save on their main concerns; cost and energy. Most importantly, corporate sustainability helps to protect the environment, makes for better workplace culture for staff, and may build trust with consumers.

Looking for sustainability software? Check out our catalogue.

Survey methodology

To collect the data for this report, we conducted an online survey in August 2021. Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 273 Australian respondents that fit within our criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Over 18 years of age
  • Full-time or part-time employed
  • In a management/executive position (manager or owner)
  • Work in an SME (with 2-250 employers) 

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

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