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Lloyds Banking Group shared logo 4 0LONDON: The Lloyds Bank Group says 25 percent of Britain's small and medium-sized businesses think sustainability is one of their top three priorities for 2014.

However, the bank says many UK businesses are still focused on "green'" initiatives rather than extending sustainability to their supply chains and sourcing criteria.

In a survey of 1008 SMEs with an annual turnover of up to £25 million, the bank says the 87 percent of respondents that have implemented sustainable business practices believe there are clear benefits in doing so. Some 54 percent think it helps to reduce their costs.

More than 40 percent say that sustainability makes a positive contribution to the environment, 30 percent say the business practice increases profitability and 27 percent think it makes them a more attractive employer.

Conversely, 87 percent of the SMEs surveyed believe that ignoring sustainable business practices is risky with 49 percent saying it could have a negative impact on their costs. Over 40 percent think it would harm profits, 39 percent believe it would diminish their reputation, 32 percent think it could exclude them from future tenders and 21 percent think it could make them less competitive.

Despite this, Lloyds finds many companies still don't think sustainability is a core business issue with 46 percent saying they are less likely to offer customers a clear business code of conduct. However 42 percent of respondents say they work responsibly within a supply chain; 25 percent operate an ethical sourcing policy; 24 percent work with local charities and 17 percent offer apprenticeship schemes.

The Lloyds survey suggests 33 percent of SMEs expect to increase their investment in sustainable business practices over the next five years, while 42 percent expect their investment to remain flat. Only two percent think they will cut back on spending in this area.

The bank adds that of those businesses that currently have no sustainable business practices, 44 percent say they will start investing over the next five years in order to reduce costs and increase profitability while making a positive contribution to the community.

Since 2009 the Lloyds Bank Group has remained in partial public ownership following an unsustainable acquisition of HBOS that cost UK taxpayers close to £20 billion and the economy more than 30,000 jobs. According to a recent survey by the London School of Economics, Lloyds has set aside £9.2 billion for "conduct costs" associated with its business behaviour. No bank executive has been held accountable.

In September last year the UK government sold six percent of its shares for £3.2 billion and retains a 32.7 percent stake in the bank. Press reports suggest the balance, currently worth £18.4 billion, could be sold off by the end of 2014.

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