Larger firms are far more likely to be taking environmental action than small and micro-businesses, according to a new study by the British Chambers of Commerce and O2.
A poll of 1,000 UK businesses, conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in partnership with O2, has found that just 11% of firms are measuring their carbon footprint. This falls to 9% for small businesses and 5% for micro-businesses, with fewer than ten employees. By contrast, 26% of larger firms, with more than 50 employees, are measuring their footprint.
The survey comes as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published this week, has warned that greenhouse gas emissions will have to be halved to limit heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Worryingly, the BCC research reveals that the pandemic has pushed climate action down the agenda, with only 13% of firms having set targets to reduce their emissions - down from 21% in February 2020. Almost two-thirds (64%) of businesses polled said they don't see net zero targets as a high priority in the wake of the pandemic, although half (49%) admit their customers are worried about the environment.
In fact, the findings show that 22% of small firms don't fully understand the term "net zero" and almost a third have yet to seek advice to help them improve their environmental sustainability.
The main barriers preventing respondents from making their business more sustainable are high costs (34%) and a lack of finance (30%). Getting access to grants (28%), tax allowances (14%) and reducing the costs of making adaptations (14%) were cited as the three steps businesses would most like to see to help them reduce their carbon consumption within the next six months.
Even so, many firms are still taking positive steps to reduce their emissions and become greener. Over the next 12 months:
- 54% of businesses plan to reduce their consumption (e.g. of paper, food and plastics);
- 47% plan to reduce the energy they use through travel;
- 40% will reduce the energy used at their premises.
The British Chambers of Commerce and O2 have launched a free online hub to help businesses measure their carbon footprint, set targets and develop a net zero strategy. The hub has information on how to apply for grants, where to get specialist advice and practical tips from firms that have already taken action.
Shevaun Haviland, BCC director general, said: "This research is a real eye-opener and shows just how big a challenge the UK's net zero target is. The dual impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have been a huge body-blow to many businesses, so it's unsurprising that targeting emissions has taken a back seat.
"The climate challenge is one that affects every single one of us and business has a big part to play in tackling it. But the government must also recognise that smaller firms will need access to grants, subsidies and other financial support to help them take effective steps on the journey to a greener future."
Written by Rachel Miller.