Supporting SMEs on their journey to net zero

Will Ennett, below, Head of Sustainability at TalkTalk, discusses the steps small and medium-sized enterprises  can take to start their journey towards net zero

You’re probably familiar with the term “net zero”, but what does this actually mean, why does it matter, and how do you go about achieving it? In simple terms, net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases you put into the atmosphere and how much you actively remove.

It’s a balance that SMEs play a big part in, with the British Business Bank estimating that smaller businesses account for 50% of all UK business-driven emissions. Yet, as many as 76% of smaller businesses are yet to implement a decarbonisation strategy and 53% are not yet ready to prioritise decarbonisation.*

There are several reasons why many are SMEs are not taking action. Rising business operating costs, a lack of guidance on where to begin, and a lack of clarity on what the benefits are being the most common.

But there is so much opportunity when it comes to prioritising net zero. It can reduce operating costs, such as fuel and electricity bills, enhance your reputation, prompt your business to use more modern eco-friendly technology, as well as make your product or service more appealing to customers.

Every business is capable of reaping these benefits, and it’s never too late to start. The first step to a greener outcome is simply awareness. By just acknowledging net zero as a priority, you are already on your sustainability journey and can look to create a decarbonisation strategy.

The MEAD (measure, engage, act, design) framework, developed by TalkTalk Business, is a great place to start. It consists of four steps that small businesses can implement to embrace sustainability, the points are as follows:

M – Measure

Measuring your carbon footprint can seem daunting, but the key is to start small and do it in bitesize chunks. There are several, accredited tools available online that can help you do this, such as this free carbon calculator developed by SME Climate Hub. This allows you to be aware of your business’s current emissions, enabling you to set future goals.

E – Engage

After you’ve got a grounding on your emissions, next it’s time to engage and create awareness with people in the business. That means everyone – employees, customers and suppliers – all the people who support your mission business’s mission towards net zero.

Engaging with all your stakeholders will unlock a wider variety of conversations and perspectives of how and where you can make improvements, sometimes at little or no cost. Just having these conversations is a good way to spread a positive message of sustainability throughout the organisation.

A – Act

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of your carbon footprint, had conversations with key business stakeholders and set out your goals, it’s time to act. There are three areas that most small businesses can begin with – energy usage and efficiency, what type of power you use, and your transportation and fuels.

D – Design

The final step is to ensure that you’re making lasting change in your SME, and don’t slip into old habits when releasing new products, services, or opening a new location. It’s important to design good habits into your core processes and build sustainability into your business services from the ground up.

Making your small business sustainable doesn’t have to be hard work or expensive, using a method like the MEAD framework enables you to understand your impact, set realistic goals and timeframes, and make a real contribution to net zero.

Sustainable practices are quickly becoming an expected standard of all businesses, and it’s important to meet that expectation. Every business, regardless of size, has a part to play in the journey to net zero. It’s easy to overcomplicate the process when looking at sustainable measures for your business, but it’s not as hard as you might think, and the wealth of online advice and tools can really help to simplify this process.

There are so many benefits that come with becoming a greener business, but ultimately, if we’re to turn the tide on global warming, then the time for action is now. And by making even the smallest changes today, your business can contribute to building a brighter future for us all.

* British Business Bank, Smaller businesses and the transition to net zero

**Business Leader. Earth Day 2022