How to be a net zero hero

Rosie Murray-West cuts through the current confusion surrounding the government's green plans for SMEs and offers some proactive steps to take.

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When it comes to the steps that start-ups and small businesses must take to remain sustainable, the government is giving mixed messages.
One the one hand, it has just launched a new ‘sustainability hub’ to help SMEs decarbonise, including access to green grants, green labeling scheme information and carbon calculators, while on the other hand, Rishi Sunak’s alleged watering down of the UK’s sustainability commitments make the issue look less urgent.

Bad for business

Small business sustainability expert Alexandra Birtles, who founded sustainable business platform In Good Company, says that the government’s recent U-turn on scrapping petrol cars and gas boilers “sets such a bad example” to small businesses.

“Small businesses are crying out for more help to reach net zero. But last
week’s government announcement made it sound like they don’t care,” she says. “If the cost of green interventions is going to come down, we need to make the UK a place where climate tech companies thrive and support small companies to make the transition to doing business better. Instead, the government is setting us back.”

What are the ground rules?

Companies themselves also say the process is difficult.

“The government rules are vague and little help is obviously available,” says Darcey Croft, who recently started Isotonic pregnancy drink business ISOMum. Despite the government decision, she says that customers and businesses still want to go green, with some sustainable decisions saving businesses money and others attracting more customers who want to support green practices. “Businesses know from speaking to customers every day that the public does care – they want business to be more ethical and sustainable,” Birtles says.

Climate changes

Here are some ways to start making a difference.

Measure your impact

If you’re concerned about your business sustainability, or even simply about rising energy bills as we go into winter, it is a good idea to measure your impact. The government’s new business climate hub has a number of free tools you can work with, including a carbon calculator and an extra tool that shows the cost of your emissions. Once you have these figures, the site can help produce a region and sector specific plan for your business to help reduce emissions.

Understand the benefits

It’s easy to see the costs of green changes for business, but it can be harder to see how it will help you as a business founder. However, Lisa Edge, who runs local sustainable marketplace GB Shared, to help businesses find more work, says that business owners don’t always realise that they are more likely to get work if they are sustainable.
“The first step is getting businesses to understand how they can benefit
themselves and their region, whilst simultaneously benefiting the planet,” she says, pointing out that tenders are now weighted in terms of a businesses’ sustainable standing, so that making green changes can give you a “commercial and competitive advantage”.

Look for support

Depending on your sector and what you want to do, there may be financial and practical help available to help you to make sustainable choices. “We get a lot of support from our trade association – The Horticultural Trade Association,” says Hannah Powell, who runs Perrywood Garden Centre in Essex. “Rather than individual businesses looking at legislation, they summarise what we need to do and lobby when roadmaps are not realistic for the industry,” she explains. The government hub above also has details of grants you can get to help go green, as well as a free online course that will help you to find further help.

Find easy wins

Not all moves towards net zero need be expensive – some will save you
money. Birtles, at In Good Company, says that some of the sustainable steps they are taking are “win win”. These include energy-saving measures like insulation and LED lights, as well as efficiency measures like producing items to order and sourcing items locally.

Communicate it!

Your customers care if you’re sustainable, so let them know! Whether it is a post on your website or a note on your packaging, tell them how you’re
changing things to do your best for the planet.

You may find your sales rise too!

Rosie Murray-West freelance business journalist
Rosie Murray-West

Rosie Murray-West is a freelance journalist covering all aspects of personal finance, as well as business, property and economics. A former correspondent, columnist and deputy editor at The Telegraph, she now writes regularly for publications including the Times, Sunday Times, Observer, Metro, Mail on Sunday, and Moneywise magazine.

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