Survey: 9 in ten UK SMEs taking action to cut emissions

A survey of hundreds of small and medium-sized business owners has found that only 11% think that reducing emissions is “of no importance”, while 44% claim their plans are aligned with net-zero.

Survey: 9 in ten UK SMEs taking action to cut emissions

Commissioned by Novuna Business Finance, the survey polled a representative sample of 1,027 small business owners operating in different sectors. While some other similar surveys in recent months have shown challenges to SME climate action, including a lack of in-house knowledge and a challenging financial landscape, this survey highlighted ambition and optimism.

Of those surveyed, only 11% said they were making no effort to reduce emissions from their businesses.

45% said they have taken steps but not yet drawn up a formal carbon reduction plan in line with net-zero, and a further 31% said they are actively working on plans to reach net-zero under an agreed strategy.

The remaining 13% claim that they regard themselves as either net-zero or carbon-neutral already. Some firms use the terms interchangeably, but a more common differentiation is that any organisation can reach carbon neutrality by offsetting, but reaching net-zero requires more significant emissions reductions.

The businesses already claiming net-zero or carbon-neutrality were in the legal, property, construction, hospitality and leisure sectors. The survey didn’t cover which emissions scopes these claims were applied to.

When it comes to firms not yet claiming net-zero or carbon-neutral status, but working to get there, the media and marketing sector was the most represented. Other leading sectors were manufacturing, medical, finance, accounting, IT and telecoms.

Many of the businesses state that they have been encouraged to increase sustainability ambitions and actions by their staff. The most common changes advocated for by staff were car sharing (at 16% of businesses polled), reducing business travel (15%) and minimising waste (13%).

Business leaders also thought that customers were more interested in different priorities – notably, using less plastic and less packaging altogether.

Commenting on the findings, Novuna Business Finance’s head of insight Jo Morris said: “We know from years of working together and through the extensive research we have done, that the UK small business community is an incredibly resilient bunch. Though the climate crisis is a daunting prospect for us all, it is so encouraging to see the action being taken within the community to implement change.”

SME snapshot

SMEs account for 99% of the number of businesses listed in the UK. When it comes to emissions from the private sector in the UK, there is around an even split between large businesses and SMEs.

The findings of the new survey stand in contrast to those from a recent survey from Lloyds Bank Business, which polled 1,000 UK SMEs. In that survey, half of respondents said they did not understand the term ‘net-zero’ and 77% said they either didn’t have strategies in place to cut emissions by 2025, or were not sure whether they did.

Similarly, a recent report from the British Business Bank, which polled 1,200 decision-makers at SMEs on their approach to reducing emissions, found that 76% are yet to implement comprehensive decarbonisation strategies. Barriers include a lack of in-house environmental expertise and limited finance.

Comments (2)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    Reduction of CO2 emissions means, in the majority of cases, replacing the energy produced by carbon combustion, with energy generated by other means, the most potent being nuclear generated electricity.
    Storage is the big problem, and devolves upon battery design and manufacture.
    Both means and materials present considerable difficulties.
    This is the basic case.
    Richard Phillips

  2. Ian Byrne says:

    I fear that this shows that how you ask the question may determine the answer. If you ask a SME what do you understand by “Net Zero” than half will admit they don’t understand it, and most of the rest will waffle, getting some of it right, but probably not everything.
    Ask them “Are you taking actions such as switching off lights or avoiding waste to reduce your carbon footprint?” and most SMEs will say yes, truthfully as many will be taking action, but probably driven by high prices and good business sense, rather than a specific concern about their footprint.
    That’s not to say there aren’t some SMEs that are really engaged and doing great things, but I dear that they are more likely to be 1 out of 10, than the 9 out of 10 that Novuna are claiming. But thank you, edie, for putting the competing survey claims together, so we can make up our own minds.

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