Just one in ten UK SMEs measuring their carbon emissions, survey finds

A poll of more than 1,000 UK-based small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) has found that just one in ten are measuring the carbon footprint of their operations, with many unsure of how to start climate action in the wake of Covid-19.

Just one in ten UK SMEs measuring their carbon emissions, survey finds

SMEs named cost as the biggest barrier to taking climate action

The poll was conducted by O2 and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) earlier this summer, garnering responses from 1,072 businesses. Of these respondents, 94% represented SMEs.

Of the respondents from SMEs, just 11% said their firm is measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually or more regularly. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the business, the less likely it was to be undertaking this task. The proportion fell to 9% for small businesses and 5% for microbusinesses. In comparison, the BCC estimates that the portion of UK businesses with 50 or more employees that measure emissions is 26%.

When the surveyed SMEs that do not measure their climate impact were asked why, cost was the most commonly cited barrier. The second most common challenge was a lack of in-house understanding or expertise; 22% of respondents said there is no one in-house that fully understands the meaning of ‘net-zero’.

There is currently no legal requirement in the UK for SMEs to measure and report their emissions. Large UK businesses are required to report in line with the Streamlined Energy & Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework if they have at least 250 employees and an annual balance sheet total over £18m, or an annual turnover greater than £36m.

Nonetheless, the UK’s 2050 net-zero target is legally binding, so further requirements for businesses will likely be introduced in the coming years and decades

According to the survey, SMEs are broadly having more difficulty measuring and disclosing emissions – and setting climate targets – than they are in acting on other environmental issues. More than half (54%) of the firms surveyed said they are planning to improve resource efficiency within 12 months, while 47% are planning to reduce travel and 40% are planning to reduce their energy consumption at offices and other premises.

The BCC’s director-general Shevaun Haviland said: “This research is a real eye-opener and shows just how big a challenge the UK’s net-zero target is. The dual impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have been a huge body-blow to many businesses, so it’s unsurprising that targeting emissions has taken a back seat.”

A helping hand

The UK Government has already published guidance on how SMEs can and should measure and report emissions, following a call to action from Prime Minister Boris Johnson in May.

Building on this, the BCC and O2 have launched an online hub enabling businesses to access practical information on how to approach the net-zero transition. This tool is free to access.

The hub contains step-by-step guidance on measuring and reporting emissions; advice on seeking help externally and information on how to apply for grant and loan funding. It also hosts case studies from businesses that already have net-zero strategies.

“Small businesses make up 99% of the UK’s business landscape, and we’re committed to helping them cut their collective carbon footprint and play their part in building a cleaner, greener future for the UK,” Virgin Media O2’s managing director of business and wholesale activities, Jo Bertram, said.

The BCC’s Haviland added: “Our Net-Zero Hub makes clear that the earlier firms adapt then the greater the advantages will be – they cannot afford to get left behind.

“The climate challenge is one that affects every single one of us and business has a big part to play in tackling it. But the Government must also recognise that smaller firms will need access to grants, subsidies and other financial support to help them take effective steps on the journey to a greener future.”

Join the conversation during edie’s Countdown to COP26 Festival

This November, Glasgow is playing host to the UN climate talks widely regarded as the most important since the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2015. 

In preparation, edie is hosting its Countdown to COP26 Festival – a six-month programme of exclusive content and events designed to inform, inspire and connect sustainability and energy leaders. O2 is acting as the headline Festival sponsor. 

The next major event for the festival programme is an afternoon of three back-to-back online events focused on how businesses can harness nature-based solutions while adapting to the changing climate to improve resiliency. This is taking place on Thursday, 9 September, from 1-4pm BST. 

Click here for a full line-up of sponsors and speakers, and to register. Grosvenor, EY and the Woodland Trust have notably been confirmed as sponsors. Additional speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Tessa Clarke says:

    It can be challenging to know where to start with measuring your emissions! I’d really encourage small tech businesses to check out Tech Zero which is an initiative that supports businesses small and large on their journey to Net Zero and has a super handy toolkit explaining what scope 1/2/3 emissions are and how to measure them, and it has member events too for sharing learnings and best practice. It’s free to join and is aiming for 1,000 companies to sign up by COP26 🙂

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie