Britain’s 5.5m small businesses overwhelmingly need more help from politicians & policy makers to reduce their environmental impact, research conducted for telecoms giant BT & & pressure group Small Business Britain has found.

Lack of policy-focused leadership and financial constraints are both holding back this major part of the economy – estimated to represent half of the UK’s business emissions  – from pursuing green growth.

Last month, Small Business Britain polled more than 2,000 SMEs – small to medium enterprises –  to examine their sustainability efforts, requirements, ambitions, and prospects.

Four in five business owners want to improve their sustainability, the survey found. Almost one in four view ‘going green’ as a growth opportunity.

Yet the survey – analysed by Oxford Brookes Business School – found almost two thirds (64%) want greater support to make sustainability improvements. Two fifths – 41% – feel lack of finance is a substantial barrier to action.

Over three quarters – 77% – of SME owners say they have already taken steps to make sustainable changes. But only 20% feel their action is significant, indicating a gap between the level of change needed and current progress.

The parties’ ‘Small Business, Green Growth’ report calls for greater leadership across government and the private sector, particularly around providing access to finance, if Britain’s employment and commercial backbone is to reach its full potential in sustainable growth, and achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Recent economic pressures – from the cost-of-living crisis to recession – are clear factors behind 34% of business owners feeling restricted in their efforts to reduce emissions. 65% want more grants to be made available.

Despite this, 25% of small businesses recognise the financial benefits and business opportunity of going green. The trend is most visible among younger start-ups. With customer and supply chain demands growing, as sustainability increasingly becomes seen as a critical issue, small businesses are also being driven by their own personal values.

Wilmer Carcamo, co-founder, Caribe Coffee Co. said: “As a small business, we prioritise sustainability as our customers expect that from us, and it’s the right thing to do. We use compostable packaging for all our coffee bags, donate our coffee sacks to a reuse and recycle community project, and would love to invest in an electric van and go further – but finances are a barrier.

“We see the desire to do more in the small business community but people are limited and need more support – while sustainable practices can unlock cost savings, this needs to be more affordable.”

“There are mounting concerns about climate change and the transition businesses and society need to make in the coming years,” said Michelle Ovens CBE, founder of Small Business Britain.

“Our research clearly shows that small business owners overwhelmingly want to go greener – driven by their own ethics as well as growing consumer expectations and supply chain demands. However, the path they need to take is not clear at all. We need more leadership and ambition – across society, the private sector and with Government – to engage and educate this vital part of the economy and to find innovative solutions for the major challenges businesses now face, particularly around financing greener growth.”

Recognising the need for enhanced practical support, Small Business Britain and BT also today launched applications for a new free, six-week ‘Sustainability for Small Business’ training programme to empower small businesses across the UK to better understand their environmental impact and embrace more sustainable practices and opportunities for change.

Delivered entirely online, with over 1000 places for small businesses available, it will focus on key sustainability topics such as measurement, accreditation, and financing.

“The commitment to sustainability among small businesses in the UK is growing, but there are challenges that still need addressing,” said Chris Sims, Managing Director, Small and Medium Business at BT.

“BT has already supported more than 1 million small businesses with digital skills support, but we are determined to help even more, which is why we are launching these new initiatives. They are designed to provide enhanced practical support to the UK’s entrepreneurs, so they can cut their CO2 emissions, implement lasting sustainability principles into the core of their businesses, and drive forward the UK’s net zero agenda in a manageable way.”

Read the report here.


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