Why we can’t achieve net zero without small businesses

There’s a common misconception that small businesses can’t make that much of an impact. Many do make an effort to lower their carbon emissions, but it’s seen as a nice thing to do, rather than a necessity. Think of transforming the world of business, and it’s all about lobbying big businesses. Of course, that’s crucial too. However, when you consider that small businessesmake up 99% of British businesses andaccount for 50% of UK business-driven emissions, it’s clear they have a big role to play.

Small but many

Adam Bastock runsSmall99, a platform that helps small businesses achieve net zero. More specifically, their mission is to guide 1 million micro businesses to net zero by 2025. We spoke to Adam about the potential that small businesses hold. He told us that there are 5.5 million small businesses in the UK, many of which are tied up with the emissions of other businesses all around the world. He also mentioned that they could account for even more than 50% of UK business emissions, as not all of them are measuring their carbon footprint yet.

“Think of your local hairdresser, cafe, office block, warehouse, hotel. Every decision they make has a carbon emission attached to it, and therefore the collective action of everyone making small changes adds up to a huge shift in how the economy operates.”

The challenges

Small business owners are often juggling many balls at once. This could be one reason they might be reluctant to start measuring and lowering their carbon emissions. If you’re not a sustainability expert, it can seem overwhelming.

Adam agrees that getting started is often the largest hurdle: “The biggest challenge is really figuring out where to start and making the time and space to make this first small step.” However, he also notes that small businesses can be in a better position to implement changes: “The strength small businesses have is that they can make a decision so fast compared to larger companies, so once committed to an idea they will do it.”

Changing mindsets

Adam’s found that as well as having sustainability as a priority, it helps if businesses also equate sustainability to economic viability.

“It's understanding that every decision a business makes has an environmental impact and cost to it, no matter how small. It's either sustainable or unsustainable – both economically and environmentally.

“If you're ordering stock from China, what happens when the factory floods due to climate change and you can't get stock? If you're hosting an event, how are you designing the menu to encourage a variety of options and not just meat as default? When sending packages, do you really need to use such a big box or could a smaller one exist that you can reuse? Investing in net zero is also about economic resilience.”

Getting started is key

According to Adam, when businesses start understanding that everything they do has an impact, they’ve already started on their net zero journey. And when we consider the potential speed with which small businesses can implement changes, it really does seem that they could be the key to the UK’s net zero revolution.

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