By Valpy Fitzgerald, Director of Green Markets at Opus Energy
The fight against climate change has always been a collective effort. But for small or medium-sized business, it can sometimes feel like you’re a small fish in a big pond. Sustainability is important – it’s what your customers and employees want – but how much difference are you really making? Isn’t it the job of the Government and big corporations to make the UK a greener, cleaner and healthier place to live and work?
In truth, it will be near impossible for the UK to achieve its net zero carbon targets by 2050 without widescale buy-in from SMEs. This is because small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMEs) make up 99.9% of the business population. And thanks to their limited size, SMEs are often well positioned to make sustainable changes to their business model.
It’s clear that small businesses’ efforts are essential in the fight against climate change, and in the middle of a pandemic, this statement has never been truer.
Here are just a few more of the reasons why SMEs are primed to lead the UK to a more sustainable future.
They’re the biggest employer in the UK
While individual SMEs have 250 employees or fewer, collectively they are the UK’s biggest employer. At the start of 2019, there were around 5.9 million SMEs in the UK, employing 16.6 million people – 60% of the total employment within the private sector.
As such, SMEs have an instrumental influence on the UK’s workforce. The decisions you take can make a significant contribution to our environment, particularly when it comes to transport; work-related travel accounts for over a third (37%) of total emissions from transport – 24% from commuting, and 13% from travel in the course of business. By supporting your employees to make greener transport choices, or enabling remote working, you can make a real impact on the country’s pollution levels.
Likewise, SMEs are in the perfect position to teach employees about the importance of sustainability. As a smaller company, it’s easier to communicate your vision and purpose with your employees and bring them along on the journey, encouraging them to apply these principles and behaviours, too.
They’re the new change-makers
Prior to COVID-19, bigger was often considered better in business. But now it would seem that the opposite is the case. Far more people chose to shop at local independent stores during lockdown, with up to 80% saying that they would continue to do so from now on. This has created an opportunity for SMEs to become the change-makers of the future, with larger corporations now looking at SMEs as genuine competition.
Consumers are aware of the part they play in bringing communities together and the influence their spending power can have on their external environment. They are now more likely to seek out smaller brands that align with their values, rather than choosing the most widely recognised name. So, while money might be tight for many SMEs at the moment, consumer support and goodwill has never been greater.
They’re the most agile
One of the things that we’ve witnessed over the course of the pandemic is the entrepreneurial spirit among SMEs. Many have had to quickly adapt and change – sometimes reinventing their business model almost entirely.
SMEs are in a unique position to implement new ideas and practices, as they often have less complicated business structures and supply chains than larger companies. Flexibility is in their DNA.
This same ability and boldness in decision making can be used to make real change within a business in the context of sustainability. Why go back to where we were before when we can build back with an invigorated sense of purpose? Our research has shown that three quarters of SME business leaders say the pandemic has made them feel like they need to run their business differently, and with sustainability now higher than ever on the agenda. Why not put this at the core of your vision?
SMEs have always been a cornerstone of our community, providing us with goods and services that feel more personal and tailored to our individual needs. But now, in an increasingly interconnected world, their influence is growing, and they are fast becoming the pace setters in our ongoing battle to protect the planet and future generations from carbon emissions.