Coming out of lockdown and returning to normal, small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need to play their part in helping the UK achieve net-zero emissions. However, a report carried out by a coalition of top business groups, energy networks, and expert bodies reported that many don’t know how they can cut their carbon emissions, are unsure where to start, don’t know where they can get help, and don’t have time to research a net-zero strategy. Furthermore, SMBs need such a strategy to be financially viable.

By 2050, the UK aims to emit zero emissions. There are a number of schemes involved in helping both the public and industries achieve this. For example, in order to encourage people to move to electric vehicles (EV), the government offers subsidised EV charger installation.

The research commissioned by the Zero Carbon Business Partnership coalition (‘Small businesses advice on net zero: discovery phase’) is the first coalition of this magnitude working together to support small businesses in their journey to hitting the zero-emissions target. Other bodies included in the coalition include:

  • The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
  • The British Chambers of Commerce
  • Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
  • The British Retail Consortium (BRC)
  • Make UK
  • Electricity North West
  • Northern Powergrid
  • Western Power Distribution

CEO of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce Miranda Barker said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy, which means they have a critical role in ensuring we meet our net-zero target. In order to help us get there, they need to be able to understand what net zero means, along with clear guidance from trustworthy partners.”

The findings of the report have called for an advice service targeted towards SMB needs, as they account for more than 99% of UK businesses, create 60% of jobs, and contribute to half of the emissions in business. The impact of the environment is a major concern for SMBs with COVID-19 and growth.

DEFRA Policy Unit and Vice Chair EPU UK Policy Committee Allen Creedy said:  “The UK government’s ambition for net zero cannot be realised without an empowered and supportive small business community. Evidence suggests that while small businesses support net-zero objectives, they do not yet understand their pathways to achieve this.

“That’s why this platform is fundamental. It’s an exciting project which will light a clear and consistent path to net zero, enabling the UK to become a powerhouse for low-carbon infrastructure, technology, goods, and services.”

A survey of 254 SMBs found that:

  • 71% could not recommend a single web source for help on decarbonisation.
  • One third were not familiar with the phrase “net zero”.
  • 57% rated the perceived importance of their environmental impact the top two scores of 4 or 5 out of 5.
  • 40% said money was a blocker to taking action.

Deputy Director of Electricity Distribution and Cross-Sector Policy at Ofgem Steven McMahon said: “Businesses want to play their part in tackling the climate emergency. It’s timely that they are being given the tools to do this in the year that the UK hosts the UN climate change conference in Glasgow.

“This is just the start. It’s great that some of the big players in the energy sector are joining the Zero Carbon Business Partnership to help small- and medium-sized businesses cut their greenhouse gas emissions and play a wider role in a cleaner, greener energy system.”

The report brings seven requirements to attention for SMBs to achieve net zero:

  • Clear information – with one-third of businesses not familiar with the phrase “net zero”, they are unsure about how and what policy changes will affect them. Simplified language is needed to avoid confusion, as well as a joined-up narrative to cut through the confusing jargon.
  • Staying in business – SMBs know they need to take action to decarbonise but need help doing so while remaining financially viable. This should be a key message when discussing carbon reduction.
  • Financial and digital literacy support – financial skills and digital literacy is essential in achieving net zero as those who are making faster progress have these. 90% of all jobs will involve digital skills by 2025. Without these integrated solutions, SMBs will struggle.
  • Trust and transparency – trade bodies and business groups are a source of trust for SMBs rather than institutions and official narratives. Within a tailored information service targeted towards SMBs, trade bodies could offer feedback to help SMBs progress.
  • Peer-to-peer relationships – SMBs need examples of successful carbon reduction strategies from other businesses. Peer support, particularly between local businesses, will create feelings of trust, capacity, and confidence.
  • Meeting the challenge of COVID-19 – for the time being, SMBs have got a lot to think about around keeping their business alive during a pandemic. Guidance needs to emphasise that green business policies will meet the challenge of COVID-19.

Northern Powergrid’s Policy and Markets Director Patrick Erwin said: “Decarbonisation requires significant action from every corner of our society. We’re proud to be part of the Zero Carbon Business Partnership so we can help SMEs – which are crucial to the UK’s economy – get the advice and support they need to contribute to net zero and benefit from a green recovery.

“Northern Powergrid has a vital role to play in enabling businesses to reduce their emissions and be part of a greener energy future.  Our distribution network powers the region today  – but we’re also working to create tomorrow’s network which will support the significant growth in connection of technologies like electric cars, solar panels, and heat pumps needed to create a low carbon economy. This will be critical in helping the businesses and communities we serve achieve net zero and delivering a cleaner energy system for our customers across the North East, Yorkshire, and northern Lincolnshire.”

Richard Hagan, Managing Director of Crystal Doors SME in Rochdale, said: “I was in a proper crisis in 2015. I had to change, or I’d have had to close my business. So, I learnt as much as I could about climate change as quickly as possible – which is what everybody needs to do – and I turned it all around.”

In November this year, Glasgow is hosting the COP26 climate conference. The Zero Carbon Business Partnership is working on developing an advice and information service that focuses on providing SMBs with tools to achieve decarbonisation, as well as resolving the points discussed above.

This year, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng addressed firms, detailing the UK Government’s Plan for Growth. Three priorities for businesses were to:

  • Enable our transition to net zero
  • Unite and level up the country
  • Support our vision for Global Britain

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “Businesses wield incredible influence to drive change across society and the economy – we need to harness this power to fight climate change.”

What steps can businesses take?

  1. Assess – measure greenhouse gas emissions including from your business, suppliers, and partners. Climate is impacted from all areas of business operations and assets.
  2. Reduce – identify ways to reduce emissions and set strategic, long-term goals. Make sure these goals are measurable so that you know if you’re on track.
  3. Offset – offsetting emissions that cannot be reduced to zero. By this, we mean pay for others to reduce their emissions to compensate for your own.

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