A lack of leadership from Government is deterring UK SMEs from taking action to reduce the environmental impact of their business.
UK SMEs, representing about 5.5 million businesses, largely regard sustainability as expensive and time consuming according to The Barriers To Net Zero, a new research study by Rimm Sustainability.
About 50 per cent of the SMEs questioned in the research identified cost as an issue, with many of them saying investing in a leadership strategy to transition to net zero emissions produced little positive impact on sales and revenues or actually caused an increase in costs and overheads.
And in a significant setback to the Government’s commitment to Build Back Greener by achieving Net Zero by 2050, almost a quarter of SMEs had no plans to embark on a journey to sustainability because there was no regulatory or legal requirement.
Although various funding schemes are available, the research revealed alarmingly low awareness and uptake of 13 schemes that provide sustainability support for SMEs, The Office For Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV): Workplace Charging Scheme was the only one that most companies were aware of or had accessed, and accounted for just 11 of respondents.
This ignorance and poor uptake of financial backing did not however equate to apathy towards tools and solutions to develop Net Zero strategies – 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.
“The results of our research do not make good reading for Government officials,” Ravi Chidambaram, CEO and founder of Rimm Sustainability, said. “With pressure mounting on SMEs to improve their sustainability, questions must also be asked of the Government, with SME perceptions of the level of support they are being given considered.
“As has proved to be a constant theme throughout the research, it is not an absence of interest or intent that is holding SMEs back, rather it is an absence of support or awareness of available support.”
To encourage greater commitment to investigating and implementing environmentally friendly policies, Mr Chidambaram urged UK SMEs to monitor and understand government regulations including legislation on areas including carbon emissions, waste management, energy efficiency and supply chain transparency – because by doing so, businesses ensure compliance and avoid penalties.
“Overall, a picture emerges of an SME sector that understands the importance of sustainability but feels it lacks the knowledge, tools and leadership support to make more meaningful progress,” Chidambaram concluded. “If a Net Zero UK by 2050 is the goal, addressing the issue must become a priority.”