New coalition to help UK SMEs align with net-zero amid Covid-19 recovery

Research has shown that SMEs would like more practical support from trade bodies and the Government on the road to net-zero

Members of the new Zero Carbon Business Partnership include the Federation of Small Businesses, British Chambers of Commerce, British Retail Consortium and Make UK. The Partnership will help SMEs access the education, expertise and opportunities for collaboration needed to meet or better the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

In the first instance, the new Partnership polled 254 SMEs across all of the UK’s main regions and sectors, to gauge their appetite for net-zero and their key opportunities and challenges. The results of this survey were published today (14 April).

Of the respondents, more than half said that reducing the environmental impact of their business is a top priority. A cited respondent is notably the winner of edie’s 2021 Sustainability Leaders Award for SME of the Year, Crystal Doors.

However, results show that many are having trouble deciphering jargon, accessing relevant resources or finding the funding needed to reduce emissions. While two-thirds of respondents claim to understand net-zero, seven in ten said that could not find an online source of help for SME decarbonisation that was accessible and high-quality.

Costs were expected to be raised as another major battier, especially in light of Covid-19. 40% of respondents said a lack of funding was a blocker to accelerating sustainability action.

The report on the results of the survey takes these trends into account and provides recommendations as to what UK SMEs need to align with net-zero. These include clear and accessible information; financial and digital literacy support for new skills and peer-to-peer relationships for sharing case studies and challenges.

The authors of the report also urge the Government and local authorities to provide more support to help SMEs financially recover from Covid-19 in an environmentally sustainable manner and better help them see the true opportunities of a green recovery. Trade bodies and business groups, meanwhile, could help bridge the trust gap between SMEs and Whitehall Departments, and can best do so by collaborating to deliver a joined-up narrative and easy contact pathway.

 “The UK Government’s ambition for net-zero cannot be realised without an empowered and supportive small business community,” Defra representative Allen Creedy said.

“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.” 

Past research

A similar survey of 500 SMEs, previously and separately conducted by Opinium on behalf of think tank the Entrepreneurs Network and the Enterprise Trust, found that 61% of British SMEs believe that the move to a greener economy post-Covid-19 presents positive opportunities.

In that survey, respondents cited poor policy support as the biggest barrier to action.

Another piece of research, from the national standards body BSI, found that just one in five UK SMEs have a public and time-bound net-zero target, as opposed to half of large businesses. This suggests that SMEs face either perceived or real challenges more greatly, including policy support, in-house expertise and financial difficulties.

Sarah George

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