In no small measure - supporting SMEs efforts to decarbonise

30th March 2023


Jen Smallwood on supporting SMEs in our efforts to decarbonise

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 61% of total employment in the UK and a little over half of the turnover in the private sector, according to Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) figures from 2021.¹ With businesses being a major driving force in decarbonisation efforts, it is surprising, given these statistics, that SMEs are so often overlooked.

However, is it really? Unlike larger businesses and institutions, SMEs cannot afford to have an in-house sustainability team or put money towards hiring an environmental management company to help them better understand and manage their carbon emissions and other sustainability concerns. Throw in a global energy crisis, and the already more limited financial resources available to SMEs are even further stretched.

In addition to costs, it is important to consider the effect of scope 3 emissions. Regardless of a company’s size, scope 3 emissions are its largest emission source, accounting for more than 70% of its carbon footprint.² When it comes to SMEs, this is even more significant as their scope 1 and 2 emissions are almost negligible in comparison with their larger counterparts.

Our efforts to decarbonise the economy, which up until now have largely focused on scope 1 and 2 emissions, have resulted in SMEs being left behind. Understandably, these emissions were addressed first given that the ownership or control largely lies with the businesses themselves, and the strategies employed to address these emissions are more clearcut (compared with addressing scope 3 emissions).

On the flip side, with no direct ownership, control or obvious solutions for scope 3 emissions, it’s easy to see why they have yet to be addressed to the same extent as scope 1 and 2.

"We can no longer avoid the messiness of addressing scope 3 emissions”

However, we can no longer afford to avoid the messiness that comes with addressing scope 3 emissions. Furthermore, in doing so, we cannot make the same mistake of overlooking SMEs as we have done in the past.

After all, while the carbon footprint of one SME may not be consequential, collectively, SMEs make up 99.9% of all UK businesses³, resulting in a significant contribution to the UK’s carbon footprint and a vital role to play in meeting net-zero targets.

Why we need to support SMEs in our efforts to decarbonise is pretty straightforward. However, this leads to the question of how do we do so? The answer to this question is not nearly as concise. Just as there is no obvious solution to addressing scope 3 emissions, there is no explicit, surefire way to support all SMEs in decarbonising.

SMEs are not only an integral part of the economy but of their local communities too. Therefore, while some standard elements, such as knowledge-sharing and funding opportunities, may be needed to provide support to SMEs, we cannot subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach because not all communities are the same. We have a choice in how we view the challenge of integrating SMEs into our efforts to decarbonise the economy – as an issue or as an opportunity. I suggest we choose the latter.

References

1 www.fsb.org.uk/uk-small-business-statistics.html

2 www.unglobalcompact.org.uk/scope-3-emissions

3 small99.co.uk/net-zero/small-business-carbon-stats

Jen Smallwood, GradIEMA, is senior quality assurance officer at King’s College London and a member of the Guildford Sustainable Business Network

Image credit: Shutterstock

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

EU and UK citizens fear net-zero delivery deficit

Support for net zero remains high across the UK and the EU, but the majority of citizens don't believe that major emitters and governments will reach their climate targets in time.

16th May 2024

Read more

There is strong support for renewable energy as a source of economic growth among UK voters, particularly among those intending to switch their support for a political party.

16th May 2024

Read more

Taxing the extraction of fossil fuels in the world’s most advanced economies could raise $720bn (£575bn) by 2030 to support vulnerable countries facing climate damages, analysis has found.

2nd May 2024

Read more

The largest-ever research initiative of its kind has been launched this week to establish a benchmark for the private sector’s contribution to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

2nd May 2024

Read more

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

The Scottish government has today conceded that its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now “out of reach” following analysis by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

18th April 2024

Read more

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close