The Little Book of Net Zero

Small businesses must do more if the UK is to reach its goal of net zero by 2050. BSI’s Little Book of Net Zero can help them

You probably didn’t think much about climate change when you started your business. And right now, like many small firms, you may already be facing a host of other challenges, from coping with business regulations and competitive pressures to COVID-19 and Brexit.

But climate change affects us all, and we can all do our bit to counter it.

Climate change has been triggered by increasing levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, resulting in harmful global warming. To address this problem, the UK has set a target for all businesses to achieve ‘net zero’ GHG emissions by 2050.

Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Net zero is an important objective because increasing levels of GHGs (of which carbon is the most common) contribute to climate change – and climate change threatens us all. The academic consensus on this is near-universal and the data supports it: the World Meteorological Organisation has reported that the warmest 20 years on record have all been in the last 22 years, with the most recent years among the warmest. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that, if no action is taken, the world’s temperature could increase by up to 5℃ by 2100, with catastrophic consequences.

The goal of net zero is very unlikely to be reached unless significant action is taken by many sections of society. Small and medium-sized businesses have a crucial role to play. That’s because smaller firms make up over 99% of all the UK’s 5.9 million enterprises – and they are responsible for half of business-related GHG emissions.

BSI recently collaborated with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) to discover how far UK businesses have traveled on the road to net zero. Through our Net Zero Barometer  – a survey of 1,000 senior decision-makers across a range of UK industries – we found that if businesses continue at their current rate of progress they are highly likely to fall short of the Government’s 2050 net zero target.

Progress towards net zero has varied dramatically, with some companies investing heavily and implementing major changes, with others making only small improvements or taking no action at all.

Small firms are struggling more than most. The Net Zero Barometer reveals that just one in five has committed to a net zero target. The sheer volume of such businesses means that this severely undermines overall progress.

This leaves smaller businesses grappling with the challenge, but help is at hand, in the form of BSI’s recently published Little Book of Net Zero, a short, straightforward ‘how to’ guide.

Our new book explains that the first decisive step, if you haven’t yet taken it, is to make a firm pledge to achieve net zero in your business. It goes on to help you identify barriers – ranging from lack of guidance to increased costs – and provide advice on how to overcome them.

The book explains that the key to success is to collaborate, adopt the approach that works for you, and use all the support available. It provides useful information and describes effective tools, including recognized business standards, to help you manage and minimize GHG emissions.

Some measures can bring significant cost-efficiencies, while others represent worthwhile investment in less tangible ways, such as strengthening your green credentials, your competitive edge, and employee motivation.

The book also gives practical, real-life examples, such as a company that has significantly cut its emissions (and energy costs!) by applying the energy management standard ISO 50001, while also winning new business by demonstrating its commitment to sustainability.

As a small firm, the means exist for you to focus on GHG reduction, hit your 2050 net zero target, and contribute to society’s wider goals. At the same time, you can embed excellence in your operations to deliver improved performance and resilience. The Little Book of Net Zero will show you the way.