It’s time for SMEs to step up to the net zero challenge
The UK’s 2050 net zero carbon reduction goal will only be achieved if the nation’s six million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) get onboard. Smaller businesses may not have the resources of large corporations, but they are a hugely important part of the UK’s carbon reduction programme.
What is expected of SMEs and what steps can smaller businesses take to reduce carbon emissions?
What is net zero?
In 2019, the government made a legally-binding commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Net zero means that the country must capture at least as much carbon as it emits. A steep reduction in carbon emissions is required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
In November 2020, the UK government published a 10-point plan setting out some of the steps that will be necessary to reach the net zero target, such as ending the sale of combustion engine cars, quadrupling offshore wind power and investing in carbon capture schemes.
Why SME support is needed to reach net zero
SMEs represent the bulk of the economy. As of early 2020, there were almost six million small businesses (with 49 or fewer employees) in the UK, representing 99.3% of total business. SMEs are responsible for three fifths of UK employment and around half the private sector’s turnover. The net zero target will not be achieved without initiatives from smaller firms because they form such a significant proportion of the economy.
A recent survey, the Net Zero Barometer Report from BSI found that for companies with 11-50 employees, carbon reduction (55%), energy reduction (48%), and waste reduction (48%) were the most commonly-adopted measures. For companies with 1,000+ employees, the most common projects were energy reduction (50%), clean energy (44%), and carbon reduction (42%).
The survey found that SMEs were overwhelmingly committed to the principle of carbon reduction, with 7 out of 10 businesses saying they had either made or were considering making a commitment to net zero. However, 82% also said they needed more guidance about how to achieve the target. As the UK’s national standards board, BSI will play an important role in helping to provide this guidance.
What can organizations do to help achieve net zero?
The first step in working towards net zero is raising awareness about what the commitment means, how decarbonization will affect the economy in coming years and the different goals and incentives that can shape each organization’s strategy.
Every business will need to develop a net zero strategy that works for its own unique characteristics. The first step will be to assess your current position, calculating your greenhouse gas emissions and understanding how carbon emissions are generated by your business.
Once you know your company’s current carbon footprint, you can identify ways to improve and reduce emissions, offset where appropriate and declare the results. At each step, standards can help with validation and verification of your efforts.
How standards can help your organization’s net zero programme
At its core, net zero is all about improving efficiency, reducing waste and supporting innovation – all vital goals for any organization. Standards help SMEs identify and implement best practice by providing a framework for improvement.