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Supporting SMEs on their Journey to Net Zero

Will Ennett, Head of Sustainability at GC Business Growth Hub partner TalkTalk, discusses the steps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can take to start their journey towards net zero.

It is noted that SMEs often have a lower carbon footprint than larger businesses, but collectively this accounts for around half of UK’s business greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s essential there is support in place to drive businesses towards net zero.

But what does net zero actually mean? In simple terms, net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gasses you put into the atmosphere and how much you actively remove.

It’s a balance that SMEs play a big part in, with the British Business Bank estimating that smaller businesses account for 50% of all UK business-driven emissions. Yet, as many as 76% of smaller businesses are yet to implement a decarbonisation strategy and 53% are not yet ready to prioritise decarbonisation*.

There are several reasons why SMEs are struggling to act, including rising business operating costs, a lack of guidance on where to begin, and a lack of clarity on what the benefits are. It’s therefore important SME’s are informed about prioritising net zero when there’s a list of opportunities and benefits it can provide to your business. It can reduce operating costs, such as fuel and electricity bills, enhance your reputation, prompt your business to use more modern eco-friendly technology, as well as make your product more appealing to customers.

With 56% of small business owners feeling it is too late to start reversing climate change, it’s important to know this is not the case, as starting to make change now can produce positive effects for your business in the long run**. The reality is that it’s never too late to start making small changes to your business that can contribute to achieving a greener outcome. The first step is awareness. Just acknowledging net zero as a priority, you are already on your sustainability journey and can look to create a decarbonisation strategy.

"Many business leaders understand the need to transition to net zero but find it overwhelming and are unsure where to start. There is lots of support to help business leaders navigate this process, and the Hub is well placed to support."

Alasdair Dalzel-Job, Sustainability & Net Zero Advisor, Business Growth Hub

The MEAD (measure, engage, act, design) framework developed by TalkTalk Business is a great place to start with this. It consists of four steps that small businesses can implement to embrace sustainability and goes as follows:

M - Measure

Measuring your carbon footprint can seem daunting, but the key is to start small and do it in bitesize chunks. There are several, accredited tools available online that can help you do this, such as this free carbon calculator developed by SME Climate Hub. This allows you to be aware of your business’s current emissions, enabling you to set future goals.

E - Engage

After you’ve got a grounding on your emissions, next it’s time to engage and create awareness with people in the business. That means everyone – employees, customers and suppliers – all the people who support your mission business’s mission towards net zero.

Engaging with all your stakeholders will unlock a wider variety of conversations and perspectives of how and where you can make improvements, sometimes at little or no cost. Just having these conversations is a good way to spread a positive message of sustainability throughout the organisation.

A - Act

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of your carbon footprint, had conversations with key business stakeholders and set our your goals, now it’s time to act. There are three areas that most small businesses can begin with – energy usage and efficiency, what type of power you use, and your transportation and fuels.

D - Design

The final step is to ensure that you’re making lasting change in your SME, and don’t slip into old habits when releasing new products, services, or opening at a new location. It’s important to design good habits into your core processes and build sustainability into your business services from the ground up.

Making your small business sustainable doesn’t have to be hard work or expensive, using a method like the MEAD framework enables you to understand your impact, set realistic goals and timeframes, and make a real contribution to net zero.

Sustainable practices are quickly becoming an expected standard of all businesses, and it’s important to embrace that expectation. Every business, regardless of size, has a part to play in the journey to net zero. It’s easy to overcomplicate the process when looking at sustainable measures for your business, however it is not as hard as you might think, with online advice and tools helping to reduce the complexity of this process. There are numerous benefits to going green, and it’s time to start making small changes to act against climate change now.


*British Business Bank, Smaller businesses and the transition to net zero.

**Business Leader. Earth Day 2022.


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This article was written solely by the identified authors and/or organisations. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and/or organisation – not those of the #HereForBusiness campaign or GC Business Growth Hub.  

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