How SMEs can help to meet global sustainability targets

By James Napier

A few weeks ago, major global corporations urged world leaders to align COVID recovery with climate science, and reconfirmed their commitment to a zero carbon economy.

This is not just a concern for business giants however: it should be high on the list for SMEs too.

Global leaders are prioritising sustainability before the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference next year, which will be seeking to further the international commitment to limit global temperature rises.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) runs Race to Zero initiative, which encourages and enables organisations, companies and individuals to measure, reduce and offset their emissions direct with UN-certified climate credits. This is part of The UN’s target to be climate neutral by 2050, spearheaded by former Secretary general Ban Ki-moon. By 2050 it will be a legal requirement for all UK businesses.

SMEs need to recognise the changing consumer and business landscape and be clearly defined as a responsible supplier and employer. This will mean demonstrating their engagement to being more sustainable in order to be responsible to the planet in the first instance – but also to compete successfully on tenders, appeal to new, more eco-aware employees and clients and achieve funding and business support access.

Being low or zero carbon is very quickly becoming a requirement to do business rather than a choice. Without that commitment, you are quite simply opting out of future commerce.

The challenge for SMEs

While there are a number of tools created for larger organisations, SMEs and startups simply do not have the time, budget or capability to measure or report on their carbon footprint, meaning they are potentially missing out on growth opportunities.

Smaller businesses may feel overwhelmed or not know where to start, which is why there are communities for experts to give advice and top tips. SMEs make up 97 per cent of the UK economy and 63 per cent of employers and contribute to 25% of UK carbon emissions – so their contribution to tackling climate change is critical.

Failing to reduce that 25 per cent will mean failing to meet targets.

The time to act is now – as Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England says: “Companies that don’t adapt will go bankrupt, without question.”

During COVID, we have all adopted more sustainable ways of working. It hasn’t been a choice, but the benefits are there, nonetheless.

Travel has been reduced massively as working from home has become the norm; face to face meetings have been replaced with online ones and bike sales have leapt, necessitating new cycling commuter lanes across the UK – the hope being that this mode of transport will continue as we all make our way back to work.

And as we do return to work (in varying ways), there are simple methods to use to keep your business more energy efficient.


Clarity is key. We all need simple measuring tools to track and compare our output in order not to slip back into old habits. It is not enough to guess, businesses of all sizes need to know their carbon outputs, otherwise it will be impossible to improve.


Lockdown has shown us all that most of our face-to-face meetings are unnecessary. While business relationships still need to be nurtured, it will be better encourage your teams to keep up with the practice of Zoom, Teams or WebEx meetings as much as possible.

Allow more flexible working – you may need to, in order to minimise the numbers in the office at any given time – but it also reduces commuting and is good for morale.


Ensure your heating and cooling systems are maintained and use windows and fans to circulate fresh air over air conditioning wherever possible. If you have kitchens, use energy efficient equipment.

Data centres are hotbeds of unnecessary energy usage, so reorganise your layout into light and dark and hot or cold air containment systems to reduce the power used to light or cool the equipment.

Recycling / reusing

Use recycled paper and refurbished phones and IT equipment. Provide your team with reusable water bottles. Encourage healthy eating with vegetarian and vegan options if you have a canteen and insist on regular outdoor breaks and walking meetings. Minimise single use plastic, print as little as possible. This is all a healthier approach for the team as well as the environment.

Ultimately, the commitment comes from the top, so demonstrating a complete commitment to a more sustainable way of operating should be embedded into your business culture. Leading by example and being open about your business energy objectives not only make your company a responsible one, it makes it an attractive one – for employees and customers alike.

James Napier is founder of CBN Expert, a carbon measurement system and dashboard for SMEs