Brighter business / Why small businesses are essential in the UK’s fight against climate change

Why small businesses are essential in the UK’s fight against climate change

15th January 2021

The fight against climate change has always been a collective effort. It can sometimes feel like too big a job for a small business.

Sustainability is important – it’s what your customers and employees want – but how much difference can you really make? Isn’t it the job of the Government and big corporations to make the UK a greener, cleaner and healthier place to live and work?

In truth, it’ll be almost impossible for the UK to achieve its net zero carbon emissions targets without small businesses, as they make up 99.9% of the business population. Thanks to their size, SMEs can more easily make sustainable changes to their business model.

In fact, small businesses’ efforts are essential in the fight against climate change - here are just a few reasons why SMEs can lead the UK to a more sustainable future.

The biggest employer in the UK

While small businesses individually have 250 employees or fewer - and in many cases nowhere near the top of that range - collectively they are the UK’s biggest employer. At the start of 2019, there were around 5.9 million SMEs in the UK, employing 16.6 million people - 60% of the total employment within the private sector.

As such, SMEs have an instrumental influence on the UK’s workforce. The decisions small businesses take can make a significant contribution to our environment. This is particularly true of transport, with work-related travel accounting for over a third (37%) of total emissions from the transport sector (24% from commuting, and 13% from business-related travel).

By supporting your employees to make greener transport choices, or enabling remote working - increasingly viable in a post-COVID world - you can make a real impact on the country’s carbon emissions.

Similarly, small businesses can teach employees about sustainability. Smaller companies can more easily communicate vision and purpose, encouraging colleagues to apply sustainability principles and behaviours in the workplace.

Changing habits

Before COVID-19, bigger was often considered better in business. This is one of the many things that’s changed in the course of the last few months. Shopping locally at independent shops became fashionable again throughout 2020. Larger corporations may now see SMEs as genuine competition.

Consumers are aware of the influence their spending power can have on their external, increasingly local environment. They’re now more likely to seek out smaller brands that align with their values, rather than choosing the most widely recognised name. Consumer support and goodwill has never been greater.

Throughout the pandemic, entrepreneurial spirit soared. Many businesses quickly adapted and changed – sometimes reinventing their business model almost entirely, almost overnight.

As small, agile businesses, SMEs can quickly implement new ideas and practices thanks to simplified structures and supply chains.

This flexibility can also help business in the context of sustainability. Our research shows that three quarters of small businesses recognize the need to run their business differently, with a greater focus on sustainability.

Small businesses have always been a cornerstone of our economy. In a new, more local and more sustainable world, SMEs can become the pace-setters in our ongoing battle to protect the planet and future generations from carbon emissions.

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