Awareness raising is the key to reaching small firms

The UK Round Table on Sustainable Development has published a report showing that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK can make a crucial contribution to sustainable development.

Until recently, the main focus of thinking about businesses and sustainable development has been on large firms. But, the report says, small firms, which make up the vast majority of UK businesses, can play an important part in moving the economy of the UK towards sustainability.

The report’s key conclusion is that the most effective way of helping SMEs to see the need for action is through education and raising the awareness of these issues amongst the UK population as whole, rather than by addressing small firms directly. Small firms are, the report argues, more heavily influenced by the personal values of the people who manage and work in them than are larger companies.

“The many current attempts to influence small firms have been likened to trying to push a piece of string. But if more of the people who run these firms understood and accepted the principles of sustainable development they might start to look for information and help,” said Ewen Cameron, who chaired the subgroup which prepared the report.

The report identifies a way in which firms could be given tax incentive to take action.

Although referring to SMEs generally, the report focuses on small firms (those with fewer than 50 employees). It makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • All responsible bodies, led by the Government, should work to encourage learning in the area of sustainable development.
  • Banks, business advisors and others supply useful advice related to sustainable development to those starting new companies.
  • Regional Development Agencies, perhaps supported by the new Small Business service, should guide Business Links to provide advice to small firms about sustainable development.
  • As part of the initiative to promote energy efficiency using funds from the proposed ‘climate change levy’, the UK Government should consider the feasibility of introducing a tax incentive for SMEs to encourage them to reduce their use of energy and other resources.
  • The Environment Agency in England and Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, should develop guidance for small firms on environmental legislation at ‘route map’ and specific sectoral levels.

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