Singapore firms fall behind in sustainability journey

Only 25 per cent of respondents in the report say that they prioritise investments to become a more sustainable business compared with the global average of 27 per cent.
Only 25 per cent of respondents in the report say that they prioritise investments to become a more sustainable business compared with the global average of 27 per cent. PHOTO: ST FILE

Only 26% of mid-sized firms view this as a top long-term goal: Study

Mid-sized firms here - those with a turnover of US$50 million (S$66 million) to US$500 million - have fallen behind their global peers when it comes to adopting sustainable business practices, according to a report yesterday.

It found that 47 per cent of respondents here recognise that their customers demand more environmentally sustainable and ethical products while 54 per cent believe that sustainable business practices will improve their growth and profitability compared with the global averages of 50 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.

Yet there seems to be a gap between their walk and their talk - although this is also a consistent pattern in other countries.

Despite recognising that there will likely be good customer reception and a positive impact on financial performance, only 26 per cent of the Singapore respondents consider sustainability as one of their top three long-term objectives. The global average was 30 per cent.

In addition, only 25 per cent of respondents in the HSBC report say that they prioritise investments to become a more sustainable business compared with the global average of 27 per cent.

Mr Alan Turner, head of commercial banking at HSBC Singapore, said this is expected for businesses that are still starting out in their sustainability initiatives.

"Many companies here and in Asia are embarking on their sustainability journey and this is often an uphill task, with some employees sceptical or shying away from the additional effort and costs associated with tracking, reporting or certification," he noted.

"Practical steps to begin embedding more sustainable business practices can include seeking efficiencies in their supply chain that can be both green and cost-effective; publicly committing to sustainable targets; and sourcing ecologically sound raw materials."

Employment diversity for Singapore firms seems to be the most popular tactical approach that companies want to use to become more sustainable in the next three years.

The report found that 23 per cent of respondents here said they want to work on external communication of their firms' ethical goals, while 61 per cent plan to set targets and make progress towards employment diversity goals within the next three years.

HSBC surveyed more than 1,400 decision-makers across 14 countries in companies that have 200 to 2,000 employees.

It studied the level of importance that mid-sized firms place on the ethical impact of their business as part of their strategies and growth ambitions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore firms fall behind in sustainability journey'. Print Edition | Subscribe