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The role of small businesses after COP26

The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow between 31st October and 12th November. [1] The summit sought to accelerate action towards a more sustainable future, from securing global net zero emissions by 2050 and protecting communities and natural habitats worldwide.

The UK Government has led the way in making a series of pledges and policy commitments to combat climate change. The UK’s largest businesses have already committed to a more sustainable future, with over half of FTSE100 companies committed to being net zero by 2050. [2]

UK Net Zero Business Champion Andrew Griffith said: 

“As the world seeks bold solutions to combat climate change, we need businesses of all sizes to put the environment at the heart of their operations, making tangible climate commitments that helps chart our path to net zero emissions by 2050.” [3]

Small businesses are increasingly expected to pursue environmentally friendly practices and achieve a net zero status. But how effective have small businesses been in achieving this so far?

A study by the Federation of Small Businesses published ahead of COP26 found that most companies believe in and want to play their part in combatting climate change. Many of them have already taken meaningful steps towards becoming more sustainable, with 67% addressing energy usage and 50% eliminating waste wherever possible. [4]

That said, small businesses face barriers that can prevent them from doing more to become environmentally sustainable.

Only 1 in 3 small businesses have a plan in place to achieve their sustainability goals, with uncertainty around return on investment (24%) and a lack of capital to invest in assets such as solar panels (22%) mentioned as being barriers to many businesses wanting to do more. [5]

A similar study from the British Chambers of Commerce in 2021 found that high upfront adaption costs and access to financial support were concerns for small businesses. [6]

Many businesses feel they don’t possess the knowledge about the courses of action available to them to combat climate change. 9 out of 10 businesses don’t understand their carbon footprint, with almost 1 in 3 not yet seeking advice or information to help them improve their environmental sustainability. [7]

The Confederation of Businesses & Industry discovered that almost 3 in 4 businesses felt they needed further training to understand how to take action. [8]

It is evident that businesses want to play their part in combatting climate change, provided they have the right support. At Exemplas, sustainability support for SMEs is a priority for the public sector business support contracts we deliver. We have been helping small businesses across the UK access grants, innovation programmes and adviser support to help them become more sustainable.