Small business owners said the number one issue holding businesses back from making their operations more sustainable is lack of time and the resources to implement environmental strategies, according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and The Corporate Finance Network’s (CFN) SME Tracker.

Company bosses also highlighted their own lack of expertise and understanding of where to start with sustainability plans, as well as the fact that the issue is not a priority for the leaders of small enterprises.

Accountants reported that just 4% of clients have requested support from them on sustainability issues.

The SME Tracker survey reflects the challenges faced by small business owners trying to be more conscious of sustainability, while still tackling a multitude of critical issues caused by the pandemic.

Businesses also reported that they are still facing challenges obtaining the right financial backing from traditional outlets now that government-backed loans have wound down. A figure of 65% of practices said that clients have struggled to access overdrafts in the last three months, which jumped from 57% in August.

ACCA UK head Claire Bennison said: “Small business owners are consumed by urgent issues at the moment and fighting to keep their operations running. It’s understandable that they are not focused on sustainability, but we would encourage them to try to take a longer-term view and build that resilience into their organisation.

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“We need to see a renewed focus from government and large business on the wider support landscape to enable smaller businesses to build sustainability into their recovery plans and to offer help for them to understand how they can contribute.”

CFN founder and recent DAFA 21 winner Kirsty McGregor said: “Accountants have a great opportunity to become a source of expertise in this area, so that they can educate their business owner clients to think about how to tackle sustainability.

“Many small companies are still struggling to get back to full strength and it’s disappointing to hear that businesses are finding routine debt financing is still proving to be a challenge. Governments should be doing more to raise awareness of financial options open to small businesses and encourage the major banks to use digital processes which make the lending decision more efficient and effective.”

The SME Tracker, which reports what small businesses tell their accountants, reported data from accountants representing 16,300 SME clients and ran until 9 November.