Small firms slashing climate impact despite lack of formal plans, experts say

Figures show that smaller companies are falling behind their larger counterparts when it comes to making formal net zero plans.

August Graham
Monday 08 November 2021 00:01
Small businesses are doing their bit to slash emissions (David Parry/PA
Small businesses are doing their bit to slash emissions (David Parry/PA

Small businesses are lagging behind their larger counterparts in establishing comprehensive climate plans, but are working to slash their carbon emissions, two experts have said.

However, the Planet Mark founder Steve Malkin, who helps businesses with their sustainability goals, said that while small businesses have few formal plans, they are still making changes.

“They’re probably a bit behind the curve, certainly on measurement, not necessarily on doing stuff,” he said.

The UK has set a target to reach net zero by 2050. That will mean the country needs to emit less carbon than it sequesters through forests and other carbon-absorbing assets.

Thousands of businesses have signed up to net zero pledges, even including oil companies such as BP and Shell.

But they have been led by public-facing giants, while research shows that smaller businesses are considerably less likely to have formal plans.

Only 3% have measured their carbon footprint and set an emissions reduction target in the last five years, according to an estimate from the British Business Bank.

These businesses account for around a third of the UK’s greenhouse emissions, so getting them onboard in the fight against climate change will be vital to meet the 2050 target.

Small Business Britain founder Michelle Ovens said that sometimes what small businesses are doing is hidden as they do not advertise it in the same way as their larger counterparts.

“I think that often they’re doing stuff that they don’t tell anyone about … British small businesses, in my experience, are terrible at hiding their light under a bushel,” she said.

“I think that reports about small businesses falling behind are maybe asking the wrong questions.

“Not to pick out any particular report. But I think that the small businesses are doing a lot of things every day, on the ground, bit by bit in their business, to move the business forward and to consider sustainability.”

Both added that the movement from big businesses is also encouraging smaller firms to change.

Many of those small firms that supply the giants will need to slash carbon if they want to keep the big companies as customers.

“The carrot is doing it for both commercial and altruistic reasons. But the stick is, if you don’t do it, you’re going to be behind probably quite quickly. Because the world is moving fast on this now,” Ms Ovens said. “There’ll be a tipping point.”

She said that this tipping point seems to have been sped up by the pandemic.

With caveats she said that the tipping point could come within the next year or two if the economy bounces back from Covid and the UK harnesses the drive that comes from the ongoing Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.

Ultimately, Mr Malkin said, small businesses are run by people, and they often take a very human approach to cutting emissions.

“In Covid, all sorts of companies have been coming to us, more than ever, to say: ‘Yeah, we get those business benefits. But actually, I’m just a mum, or I’m a dad or I’m a person who cares, and I just want to do it,’” he said.

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