Stories from practice

29 August 2022

Insights from SME accountants: taking up the sustainability challenge to help SMEs by Caroline Cziharz

Caroline is a sole practitioner in Salzburg, Austria. In 2021, she left a large accountancy firm to provide on her own tax and consultancy services to family businesses. At the same time, Caroline started a sustainability training and is now ready to make use of this new skillset.

I’ve been a sustainability advocate for many years. I am now combining this passion with what I do best – servicing small business enterprise (SME) clients –to provide sustainability advice.

Many sustainability-related rules and regulations are coming up for larger companies, but smaller ones will also be affected. While I find SMEs generally aware of the future changes, that is not the case for microbusinesses.

Changing perceptions

When SME owners look for sustainability services, they don’t necessarily think of their accountant as the first go-to person, even when they have a strong business relation with them. But we are in an ideal place to advise them. So I conduct a lot of proactive advertising as a sustainability accountant. I also often team up with professionals from other sectors, such as public relations and marketing, to build a cross-sectoral group of experts to work on two fronts: sustainability awareness raising and sustainability services.

Where to start?

The starting point for SMEs – and their accountants– should be to get familiar with the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), assess where the company is at and determine objectives. The next step will be to find a network of colleagues and fellow experts to learn from each other and develop concrete measures to integrate sustainability into the business model and strategy.

As accountants, our role is to make business owners understand how important sustainability is, warn about the risks and convince them about the benefits of taking action. It is also important to emphasise how much value consumers, especially the younger generation, put on sustainable business practices.

There is also a lot of government support available on the sustainable transition, but the application processes are complicated, and the helpdesks are not easily reachable. This can easily discourage small businesses. Accountants can inform SMEs and help them apply for support funding.

Most SMEs will need this push from their accountant. There is for now little incentive for them to change, but they need to start now. The longer they wait, the harder it’ll get.

 

This interview is part of our Insights from SME accountants series, where small practitioners share their experience supporting SMEs with their sustainable transition. Get in touch with Caroline Cziharz by email.

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