The conversations with clients often tell us more than just where they are and what challenges they are facing. They also give us clues as to what issues they are thinking about and when combined with others a view of what topics are coming onto the agenda of SMEs in general.
Whilst there was plenty of news interest in COP26 held in Scotland in late 2021, interest amongst SME business owners seemed limited. The impact of the coronavirus, a new variant, continuing supply chain and cost pressure, and a general mental tiredness probably accounted for this, but things have changed.
Fast forward four months and whilst national and global news stores may have moved on, “net zero” is definitely starting to feature more on the agendas of SMEs. This interest might be driven by; pressure applied by larger corporates wanting clarity of their net zero position throughout their supply chains, or more information being supplied to them from organisations like the County Council business team and Growth Hub network, or events organised by organisations like the local Chamber of Commerce.
There is certainly more noise but whether there is the bandwidth at the moment for small business owners to take action is yet to be seen. There are still many other challenges out there and net zero might be an important but not urgent issue.
Understanding net zero
In some respects, understanding net zero is quite easy. As a concept, it’s just an equation. As we operate we emit greenhouse gas emissions and therefore to achieve a neutral position we should aim to remove the same level of emissions from the environment. When what we add is no more than what we take away we reach net zero.
I read an example of this being like a bath. Run the taps at the same rate as the flow through the plug and you achieve a balance.
Importantly we are not trying to reach gross zero, where we eliminate the emissions from our activities altogether. Realistically this wouldn’t be possible but offsetting to a net zero is.
The levers in the equation seem straightforward too. You either reduce the level of emissions you emit through a change in how you work, or you offset more.
Achieve this balance as a global community and we stop or slow the impact of climate change.
Why is it important for SMEs?
- The government is introducing legislation to change the behaviours of large businesses and this in turn will put pressure on their small business suppliers as they look to secure their green credentials
- Legislation will eventually trickle down and it makes sense for SME’s to have a plan and be ahead of the curve
- Consumer habits are also changing. More eco-conscious trends are starting to appear as customers add environmental sustainability credentials into the buying decision making process. Having strong environmental credentials will be important to attract customers
- Energy prices are increasing and whilst global prices are being impacted by global political events, reducing reliance on fossil fuel energy will insulate the business against future energy cost fluctuations.
So far so good. Now for some more difficult questions.
- How do we estimate the levels of greenhouse emissions we emit?
- What schemes are there to offset?
Without knowing where we are and which parts of our activities contribute most to our emissions output it’s difficult to think how we could reduce them. If we can measure this now it gives us a score to check in against in the future to monitor the performance of our plans.
I’m seen various schemes where you can buy into offsetting, but I’m interested in what is available within the community we work in. I know it’s not like food miles but it feels like an opportunity to accelerate economic activity if the offsetting schemes generate an output into the local economy especially if through jobs creation.
I was also interested to recently see the amount of carbon noted on a train ticket which made it really easy to work out the total emissions for a work tip out to London to visit clients. At around a tree to offset the whole trip, including cab in London and car journey to the station it puts the challenge into perspective. I worked this out roughly on the train journey home but recognise that we need something a bit more robust for the business.
To get the measurement done professionally and more accurately I wanted to find an organisation that could help. I’d been introduced to Richard Garner at Zellar through the Lincolnshire Financial Intermediary Forum and after learning more about their platform and their values and aims decided to partner with them.
Zellar are focused on helping small and medium sized business rise to the challenge of climate change. Their platform enables you to establish your sustainability impact and then through recommended actions reduce your carbon footprint. They are also building a network of businesses that can support small businesses on their journey.
We are now in the process of learning what our emissions are.
The journey has only just started and there is still a lot to learn, but the first tiny step has been taken. Each month over the next twelve months we’ll be sharing our progress towards net zero and so next month we’ll be looking at our initial score and delving into the numbers.
If you have any feedback or thoughts, please get in touch with our team today.