Small and medium businesses (SMEs) working to reduce their carbon emissions are essential if the UK is to achieve net zero, especially since there are 5.6 million small businesses in the UK.
SMEs are classed as businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Though the climate impact of just one SME may seem small compared to large corporates, the combined effect is huge, as SMEs make up 90% of business worldwide. However, SMEs often lack the resources to prioritise sustainability.
According to research by the UK Business Climate Hub – a UN-backed initiative engaging small and medium-sized businesses in the Race to Zero – 68% of polled SMEs did not believe they had the relevant skills or knowledge to reduce their carbon emissions or reach net zero. Key gaps might include the measurement of an organisation’s baseline emissions and the development of a science-based strategy to reducing overall emissions.
LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills report states that 13.3% of professionals have a sustainability-related skill and job titles such as ‘sustainability manager’ are the fastest-growing green job year-on-year. If you’re part of an SME, investing in a sustainability professional can help your organisation navigate the path to net zero. However, they’ll need support from leadership if they are going to be able to help steer your business towards sustainable goals to reduce your overall carbon emissions.
Six reasons your business should focus on sustainability
You’ll be directly addressing the climate emergency.
It will improve brand reputation and fulfil your corporate social responsibility.
The number of sustainability professional roles has been steadily increasing year on year, as consumers look to support brands with green credentials and as the UK’s net zero target of 2050 draws closer. So, it might be worth considering recruiting a sustainability officer, or founding a sustainability group comprised of employees from various departments and with a range of perspectives.
What’s stopping businesses?
According to the SME Climate Hub, a lack of resources and lack of funding are the main barriers that SMEs face when committing to climate action. In the short term, members of the SME Climate Hub have found that the three most effective ways to make positive changes without a net zero strategy have been:
Reducing energy consumption and waste.
Upgrading facilities or equipment.
Most businesses who have committed to reducing emissions in the short term as a priority have stated they need external funding to deliver long-term sustainability plans.
Policy plays a big role in supporting businesses with energy efficiency frameworks, which can be used to support roadmaps to sustainability. LEAP4SME – a consortium of nine European national energy agencies – is working to help SMEs become more energy efficient. It’s found that SMEs commonly lack the capacity, time resources and expertise to become more energy efficient, despite the potential for large energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy measures.
Having a sustainability professional on board who can navigate energy efficiency policies and more importantly, implement them, could mean the difference between becoming sustainable or not.
With new SME support available from the UK Business Climate Hub and energy efficiency advice for businesses available, a new sustainability function within your business has a lot to dig into. You can make a start by joining thousands of other UK businesses by signing up and making a commitment to reaching net zero and getting employees involved with sustainability.
There are several ways to get started. We've put together some resources below