C-suites failing on sustainability efforts

Better Business Act

Almost half of all SME C-suites are rudderless on the road to Net Zero and have nobody in charge of their sustainability efforts.

As many as 2.75 million UK SMEs – 45 per cent – do not have anyone leading their sustainability efforts despite the nation’s small businesses making up 99 per cent of all UK businesses. The Barriers To Net Zero report by Rimm Sustainability, a global B2B sustainability solutions provider, has identified a responsibility gap in collective sustainability efforts in its study of 150 UK SME leaders.

A fifth (19 per cent) of forward-thinking SMEs have a c-suite or board-level executive who is tasked with pioneering their sustainability efforts, for example, a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). While a similar report by PwC on enterprise sustainability firms confirms that 37 per cent of the UK’s large businesses have a CSO, highlighting a large disparity.

The research shows that some of the most polluting industries are the least likely to have a specific employee in charge of sustainability initiatives. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of SMEs from the agriculture industry have not taken any initiatives to achieve their sustainability goals or requirements, followed by more than 60 per cent of SMEs from the travel, transport and logistics industry, 52 per cent of construction firms and 40 per cent of retail SMEs.

While the most proactive SMEs are mainly based within professional services and office-based industries. Small HR and recruitment firms were most likely to have appointed someone within the business to lead their sustainability drive, followed by 78 per cent of small accounting and finance firms, and 67 per cent of creative and design businesses.

Without proactive action by C-suites and businesses big and small the UK will not reach its collective targets,” Ravi Chidambaram, chief executive officer and founder of Rimm Sustainability said. “While undoubtedly the biggest businesses and polluters have the most work to do small businesses, of which there are 5.5 million in the UK must play their part too.

“It is worrying to see that still today 45 per cent of UK SME leaders haven’t tasked anyone in their business with improving sustainability, or even taken the lead themselves. While business trading conditions are tough improving business practices can save money, as well as make companies more desirable to work with to potential customers. The benefits of green practices outweigh anything else.”

Almost one in 10 of SMEs have outsourced their sustainability drive to a third-party or partner, leveraging other people’s specialisms outside of the business.

“SME C-suites have a multitude of challenges to contend with however thinking smart and using a partner to measure, report and improve on sustainability is simple,” Chidambaram continued. “There are now many cost-effective and even free ways to review things like your business’s carbon footprint and improve on it, as well as more advanced tools using AI and learning materials. SME leaders have little excuse not to embrace a greener future.

“The report also shows there is not an absence of interest or intent in SMEs adopting greener practices, rather it is an absence of knowledge and support. Solutions like the myCSO platform have been specifically designed to remove cost as an obstacle for growing businesses but deliver the competitive advantage of a greener, more sustainable business over competitors.”

Half of the SMEs questioned said a lack of funds was a restrictive factor on their Net Zero journey, while a third (33 per cent) said a lack of time identified cost as an issue. However, there is still an appetite for the transition to greener practices. More than a quarter (28 per cent) of SMEs wanted to adopt a carbon calculator while the same percentage were interested in interactive dashboards and reports to reflect emissions output and energy efficiency. One in five respondents wanted to access educational resources and training programmes and a further 20 per cent were interested in engaging staff in Net Zero strategies.

Rimm Sustainability has developed a virtual platform which assumes the role of a sustainability officer: myCSO. The cost-effective platform assesses and measures green performance and then provides guidance on how a business can further enhance its environmental strategy and credentials.

The aim of the platform is to provide businesses with a system which enables C-suites to act in an environmentally friendly way and to unlock the commercial benefits this brings.

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