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Sustainability Survey

The Sustainability Survey is a new report from SEK entirely focusing on the sustainability efforts of exporters. This encompasses everything from their views on sustainability requirements to completed and planned investments to reduce their climate impact.

The results and analysis for the six issues included in the Sustainability Survey are presented below. In total, 200 exporters have participated in the survey and the interviews were conducted in the period between April 6 and May 4, 2021.

Has the company made any climate-impact-mitigating investments in its operations in the past 12 months?

The climate-neutral transition has already begun for many companies. In total, 69 percent of exporters state they have made climate-impact-mitigating investments in their operations in the past 12 months. When compared with small companies, considerably more large companies state that they have made such investments.

Even if many companies have understood the impact of the demands from their customers, almost half – 47 percent – of the small companies state that they have not made any investments in the past year aimed at mitigating their climate impact. The corresponding figure for large companies was 25 percent.

Large companies generally have a greater capacity and customer base than small companies to implement investments in climate-neutral operations. The transition could be complex and demanding in terms of resources and expense, resulting in some companies postponing and remaining cautious about such investments. One factor that could be significant for the desire to invest is the pandemic, which created major uncertainty and resulted in many companies being unable to or not daring to make investments last year.

Are you planning any climate-impact-mitigating investments in your operations in the next 12 months?

In total, 70 percent of the large exporters are planning climate-impact-mitigating investments in the next year. Not surprisingly, it is the large companies (81 percent), rather than the small companies (49 percent), who are planning to invest in the green transition.

Sweden’s success with its commitment to the Paris Agreement requires the country’s largest exporters to invest in mitigating climate emissions. Investments are also required to strengthen the long-term global competitiveness of the export industry.

However, seven of ten companies is a relatively high proportion, demonstrating that companies believe that green investments are profitable and that decisions are governed by increasing demand and not merely because of more stringent legislation. Be that as it may, it is surprising that more companies are not investing in operations given the one-way nature of the road ahead. It will be costly to refrain from investing in sustainable operations. A sympathetic interpretation could be that companies have already made investments to mitigate their climate impact. A more pessimistic explanation is that companies are not prioritizing sustainability issues enough. And a realistic interpretation could be that small companies have been unable to or not dared to invest during the pandemic but have instead been preoccupied with simply surviving.

Will you require external financing for these investments?

In total, 73 percent state that they can carry out climate-impact-mitigating investments without the need of external financing. This is a very high proportion and demonstrates that many exporters have strong finances and do not need to borrow to finance their transition. Only 20 percent of both the large and small companies believe that they will require external financing for their investments.

It would have been likely to assume that small companies would be in greater need of financing than large companies, but this is not the case. Many companies possess very strong liquidity, which is partly because they took out substantial loans when the pandemic struck in case it proved lengthy. Many also decided to pause their dividends to receive governmental support. However, the main reason is the strong recovery of the export industry and high demand. According to the Export Credit Trends Survey, six of ten exporters are expecting an increased order intake in the coming 12 months. Altogether, this means that many companies have a strong financial position.

Do you routinely set sustainability requirements for your customers?

Just over half (54 percent) of exporters consistently set sustainability requirements for their customers in an export transaction, which is up 3 percentage points compared with last autumn. However, the difference between large and small companies is clear. While 63 percent of large companies routinely set sustainability requirements, only 35 percent of small companies do the same.

Sustainable operations and ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) have become increasingly important factors, which is as noticeable in legislative efforts and reporting requirements as it is among consumers.

Large companies have better prerequisites than small companies to keep themselves updated in the broad flora of regulations and norms. Moreover, governments across the world, particularly in Europe, are setting more stringent requirements. The EU Taxonomy – that helps to identify and compare environmentally sustainable investments – that is now being drawn up, is one example of this.

Sustainability can sometimes be considered costly, but taking the risk of not setting sustainability requirements can be even more expensive in the long run. Identifying and managing sustainability risks is becoming increasingly common. Investors are considering sustainability as a risk in their investment decisions and many companies have integrated sustainability risks in their operational processes. Media and consumers are also evaluating companies with a more in-depth approach today compared with the past.

During the past year, has the company declined any potential transactions due to any party not meeting the sustainability requirements stipulated for the companies or for the transaction?


Two of ten companies (20 percent) have, during the past year, declined a potential transaction due to a party not meeting the sustainability requirements stipulated for the company or for the transaction. This is also an issue in which the results differ between large and small companies. Twice as many large companies have declined a transaction due to sustainability requirements compared with small companies.

Larger companies have a greater focus on the issue and are better placed to turn down a customer that fails to meet the company’s requirements. Smaller companies do not have the financing to set these higher requirements even if they are aware that they will be affected in the long run. Regulations and norms apply to all companies even if the requirement specifications take longer for small companies to completely fulfill. The large companies are more quickly affected by the issue, but in time, small companies will also be affected.

Do you perceive that sustainability requirements from your customers have changed during the past year?

In total, 63 percent of exporters perceive that their customers set more stringent sustainability requirements now compared with one year ago. Large companies perceive this to be the case to a greater degree (75 percent) compared with small companies (40 percent).

Corresponding amounts can be seen for those that do not believe that requirements have changed. Almost half (43 percent) of the small companies believe that sustainability requirements from their customers have not changed, while only 20 percent of the large companies believe this to be the case.

Small companies often act as subcontractors for large companies, which could be a reason why they do not perceive as high requirements from their customers compared with large companies. The requirement specifications that large companies are being held to have yet to impact subcontractors, even if they are well on their way to doing so.

However, the trend toward more stringent sustainability requirements is clear. Some years ago, it was mainly those who were interested in the environment that concerned themselves with sustainability issues, while the topic is now a megatrend. Companies are increasingly recording their carbon footprint, environmental impact and social responsibility.

ESG factors are now something that every company must consider, partly because this is what customers expect, and partly because companies must be able to manage sustainability risks to attract investors. By investing in the green transition, Sweden’s exporters and their subcontractors can strengthen their competitiveness while reducing their climate impact. The banks play a crucial role in this as legislation for the financial sector is driving and making it increasingly difficult for companies to receive financing without climate transition plans and activities that promote more climate-neutral operations.