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Entrepreneurs are our secret weapon on the road to Net Zero

Written by Michelle Ovens on Thursday, 11 November 2021. Posted in Politics, Insight, Analysis

The spotlight of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) focused minds recently on the peril the planet is in, and the need for urgent action. The business response is also reaching a tipping point.

Entrepreneurs are our secret weapon on the road to Net Zero

The spotlight of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) focused minds recently on the peril the planet is in, and the need for urgent action. The business response is also reaching a tipping point. 

The summit has been a powerful backdrop for big businesses to highlight important targets and ambitions. Yet the progress that small businesses are making to step up their efforts also deserves greater attention.

Behind the scenes, bit by bit, small businesses are increasingly moving towards net zero. And this quieter, accelerating shift is vital. 

Britain’s entrepreneurs must be at the very heart of the response to the climate crisis here and across the world. Collectively the UK’s 6 million small businesses account for 60% of private sector jobs. They are also now thought to be responsible for a third of all UK emissions, according to a new report by the British Business Bank

Only by engaging small businesses will the UK, and the rest of the world, meet their net zero goals. And only by providing them with the right support, and encouragement to work together, will the entrepreneurial community gain the momentum to play the role it must. 

Big wins

For many becoming more sustainable is as natural as breathing. Not only is protecting the planet for future generations something they genuinely care about, but it’s an exciting business opportunity. Doing so can help to reduce costs and enable them to serve customers better. 

It also presents a huge chance to gain ‘first mover’ commercial advantage. The world is focusing fast on this issue now, particularly as economies reboot. Those who do not adapt will be left behind quite quickly – out of supply chain contracts, out of favour with customers, and out of the conversation. 

Small businesses get this. Recent research by BT Skills for Tomorrow and Small Business Britain found that 97% of small businesses say sustainability is important to their business. We know from our earlier research too, that over a third have also taken action to become more sustainable due to the pandemic.

Not only have lockdowns promoted environmental action amongst small firms - whether it is reducing unnecessary travel through more digital and remote working, or the impetus to rethink sustainability strategies - it has positioned small businesses better for change. For all its challenges, the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the capability of entrepreneurs to adapt and respond, as well as strengthening their resilience. 

Leading Innovation 

Small businesses offer a grassroots, agile response to sustainability. And as we move to a more sustainable world, entrepreneurs will also be the source of innovation in our society. Because small businesses are often the ones driving change – listening to customers, questioning the way things are done, and coming up with practical solutions. 

Take recycled packaging wholesaler ‘Tiny Box’, one of this year’s Small Business Saturday’s SmallBiz100. It was founded by Rachel Watkyn in 2007 when she could not find sustainable packaging for her own small jewellery business. Her business has since boomed by meeting the demand out there from other small businesses, and it is now the UK’s largest online gift-wrapping company and one of Dragon’s Dens biggest success stories. 

Tiny Box’s story stands out, but there are many other small business sustainability journeys that fly under the radar. Whether it be reducing waste, changing energy suppliers, or rethinking transport methods, many entrepreneurs are already making small, but important changes, and many more aspire to. 

We are hearing about this progress day-in-day-out from small businesses, since kicking off Small Business Saturday’s UK Tour with BT Skills for Tomorrow.

Get Excited

Indeed, the zero emissions vehicles we’re using on The Tour have attracted a lot of attention ever since we drove into the Green Zone at COP26, with an electric van, car and scooter, as well as the ‘delivery style’ push bike. These vehicles not only reflect some of the changes that small firms are making or considering, but showcase exciting future potential too.

This is important because to succeed in this most audacious goal of ‘saving the world’ we need to get people excited.  The current business conversation around going net zero can be dry and overwhelming. It needs to switch to an altogether more positive, motivating dialogue that focuses on speedy solutions.

Small businesses need to be encouraged to act, and then supported to make positive changes along the way, particularly where the road gets bumpy. 

Over the nine years that Small Business Saturday has been campaigning in the UK - to celebrate small businesses, and encouraging the public to support them – we have learned that positivity and possibility is what engages entrepreneurs, not doom and gloom.

While big corporates and nations have dominated headlines at COP26, inspirational addresses from leaders such as the Queen, Obama, and David Attenborough, have also highlighted the powerful role of individuals. Everyone must step up. Everyone can make a difference. When it comes to the role of businesses, it’s time to think ‘small’ as well as ‘big’. This is the message we must take with us for the long-haul.

About the Author

Michelle Ovens

Michelle Ovens

Michelle Ovens CBE is founder of Small Business Britain , the UK’s leading champion of UK small businesses. Michelle is also director of Small Business Saturday, a campaign to support, inspire and promote small businesses, on the day and beyond.

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