Sustainability a high priority for small businesses, but they urgently need more support

A huge opportunity exists to support small businesses to become more sustainable as they face mounting economic challenges, according to a new report from Oxford Brookes Business School and Small Business Britain.

In findings that point to the ambition amongst small firms to take action on climate change, 71% of small businesses said they intend to reduce their carbon emissions over the next two years, but many feel that barriers such as lack of finance (41%) and time pressures (30%) are holding them back.

The research, which was gathered earlier this year, shows that over two thirds (69%) of British small firms were already actively lowering their carbon emissions and over half (56%) were taking action to optimise energy usage and reduce waste in their business.

Experts behind the report believe that escalating energy prices and growing economic uncertainty is likely to have strengthened this desire among small businesses. They call for greater support and collaboration to guide small businesses on the journey towards net zero, which would not only have positive impact on the environment, but open up growth opportunities and help insulate small firms from further economic shocks and uncertainty.

“The challenge of climate change looms large, and the conversation around business sustainability is only going to get bigger and more critical. This is going to increasingly be the focus for all business as we continue through 2023 into the next decade and beyond,” said Michelle Ovens CBE, founder of Small Business Britain.

The new report shares encouraging findings about small businesses and their commitment to sustainability

“Entrepreneurs are natural changemakers, and they have the ability to make real impact quickly. With 99% of the UK economy made up by small businesses, they play a vital role in helping the UK achieve net zero. This passion needs to be supported and directed, however, to ensure that it converts to action that has impact.”

Despite clear intentions from entrepreneurs to incorporate sustainability into their business, 41% feel that access to finance is holding them back and almost a third (30%), do not feel they have the time to prioritise green switches. Furthermore, over half (54%) either do not understand or are not aware of the government’s net zero commitments.

To help address this, Small Business Britain launched the Small Business Sustainability Basics Programme earlier this year, in partnership with Oxford Brookes Business School. This is a free six-week course designed to help firms kickstart their sustainability journey, which has now been completed by over 1300 small firms across the country.

“Small businesses play a big role in achieving our Net Zero targets, so it’s incredibly encouraging that our research shows many are already taking action or want to do more,” said Dr Lauren Tuckerman, Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes Business School and co-author of the report Small Business Sustainability: Insights and Implications.

“In this report, there are not only recommendations for small businesses, but also for policymakers, intermediary organisations and bigger businesses too, so that we can all work together to achieve our sustainability goals. Sustainability is not a cherry on the top of a good business, it is the strong foundation for them to thrive, and small businesses are ideally placed to show that.”

Download the full report here:

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