Most small and medium-size businesses want better sustainability programs but are hindered by costs and a perception that investments in green initiatives don’t matter to customers.

That’s one of the key findings of a recent Cox Enterprises survey on sustainability, which received responses from more than 2,000 decision markers of businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees. 

The majority of small and medium-size businesses (52 percent) said they’re not satisfied with current levels of sustainability, and even more (65 percent) reported that they’re committed to increasing eco-friendly activities.

Among other findings of the Cox Conserves Sustainability Survey:

  • Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of respondents identified cost reduction and company values as the top factors driving investment in sustainability.
  • Monetary considerations are both the largest adoption driver (reducing costs, 60 percent) and barrier of entry (unwillingness to pay additional costs, 64 percent) for sustainable business practices.
  • SMBs with the largest revenues ($100 million plus) are far more likely to participate in sustainability activities than businesses earning less than $10 million (85 percent and 57 percent, respectively).
  • SMBs within certain regions of the United States are more likely to participate in sustainable activities than others – the Pacific region leads the way with 67 percent participation, while the Atlantic region lags at 59 percent.
  • An SMB’s time in business correlates to participation in sustainability activities: SMBs with 10 or more years of business are more likely to have an established sustainability program than those launched in the last five years (63 percent to 52 percent).

“This research reveals that SMBs welcome the opportunity to learn more about sustainability and are committed to increasing eco-friendly practices,” said Cox Enterprises Executive Vice President Alex Taylor. “There is compelling data that education can move the needle on sustainability. For example, if companies cite prohibitive costs and low customer demand as barriers to sustainability – we have to do a better job explaining return on investment and the rise of the responsible consumer.”

October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and the survey results also show that women-led SMBs currently embrace sustainability more than those led by men. Seventy percent of women are committed to increasing sustainable business activities and are more likely to offer recycling programs, material efficiency initiatives and telecommuting options, compared with 62 percent of men. Women-led SMBs also claim a more positive outlook on future initiatives, suggesting that continued promotion of women to businesses’ top offices can help support forward-looking sustainability leadership.