Local successes in Greater Manchester are proving that hands-on, tailored support for SMEs can help lead the transition to a low carbon economy.
Research shows that SMEs face a number of barriers when it comes to sustainability.
While many larger businesses are beginning to understand the short-term and long-term risks posed by climate change, resource price volatility and the rise of the eco-conscious consumer, SMEs can find it particularly difficult to seize opportunities, even when they know they should.
“The traditional assumption is that once a business recognises opportunities to improve sustainability and the benefits these will bring, it will take action”, said Samantha Nicholson, head of low carbon at the Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub.
“However, despite a multitude of information campaigns and online resources, this is simply not the case for the majority of SMEs.
“The barriers are much more complex than meets the eye. SMEs are time-poor and often have little capacity to identify and investigate improvements on their own. They are less likely to measure performance and keep records, and struggle to prioritise long-term improvements due to the demands of day-to-day management.”
Research from ENWORKS shows that UK SMEs are missing out on annual savings of up to £2.4 billion by failing to implement simple, no-cost or low-cost energy efficiency improvements.
If materials, water and waste are also included, this figure would be even higher.
To tackle the issue head-on, the Greater Manchester Business Growth Hub provides tailored, hands-on support to help SMEs embed eco-innovation and sustainability into their core business models and practices.
“We’re helping SMEs to overcome these issues by providing fully-funded, one-to-one environmental business support that is tailored to each business and looks at all stages of the value chain - designing out the use of energy, water and materials from products, packaging, processes and premises”, Nicholson added.
In 2015, the Hub helped more than 130 businesses in Greater Manchester to save £2.2 million by reducing their use of energy, water and materials.
For example, Bluebell Fitted Furniture, a manufacturer of bespoke bedrooms, kitchen and home studies in Trafford, installed a waste wood heating burner, LED lighting and solar panels following the Hub’s support.
Mike Reuben, director at Bluebell Fitted Furniture, said: “Initially we were using three or four skips a month and now we are using one. Our solar panels have reduced our electricity costs by about 60 per cent, and with additional income from the Feed-in Tariff, this is more like 80 per cent.
“It’s hard to put an exact figure on the LED lights, but we are looking at savings of around a couple of thousand pounds a year.
“That is way over our initial expectations and it’s motivated us to take additional steps, such as having additional solar panels fitted.”
“I think people are starting to notice companies that are doing things like this and looking at them more favourably”, he added.
To find out more about the Business Growth Hub’s fully-funded environmental business support, click here.
The full version of this article originally appeared in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Excellence magazine, IMPACT.