Abstract This paper empirically investigates factors driving the adoption of energy-efficiency measures by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Our analyses are based on cross-sectional data from SMEs which participated in a German energy audit program between 2008 and 2010. In general, our findings appear robust to alternative model specifications and are consistent with the theoretical and still scarce empirical literature on barriers to energy-efficiency in SMEs. More specifically, high investment costs, which are captured by subjective and objective proxies, appear to impede the adoption of energy-efficiency measures, even if these measures are deemed profitable. Similarly, we find that lack of capital slows the adoption of energy-efficiency measures, primarily for larger investments. Hence, investment subsidies or soft loans (for larger investments) may help accelerating the diffusion of energy-efficiency measures in SMEs. Other barriers were not found to be statistically significant. Finally, our findings provide evidence that the quality of energy audits affects the adoption of energy-efficiency measures. Hence, effective regulation should involve quality standards for energy audits, templates for audit reports or mandatory monitoring of energy audits.