Net Zero Heroes - Small business big impact

Six tips smaller businesses can use to make a positive impact on climate change

1. The challenge is big but so is the opportunity

"People vote with their feet and want to spend their hard-earned money with brands that resonate with them."

Gareth Dinnage, Managing Director, Seacourt

illustration of business man and woman having a conversation while taking notes on the desk

2. Bigger businesses are looking for sustainable supply chain partners

“Larger companies are starting to look to their supply chains for sustainability. This is an opportunity for smaller businesses to shine.”

Shanika Amarasekara, Chief Impact Officer, British Business Bank

illustration of two business women and a man having a meeting

3. Don’t wait for perfection

“Sometimes we wait for perfection to announce or launch anything new. Actually, some of the tiny changes we can make along the way to individual processes can make a big difference.”

Laura Crawford, CEO and Sales Director, Mama Bamboo

4. Work with your manufacturers to find answers

illustration of two business women and a man having a meeting

“We were lucky to find a manufacturer who was open to new ideas and flexible in the way they work. We were able to start at the end goal and work backwards.”

Holly Boxall, Founder, Trash Planet

5. Collaboration is key

“There’s a lot we can learn from each other in different sectors and those further ahead in the journey."

Shanika Amarasekara, Chief Impact Officer, British Business Bank

6. Create a powerful narrative

illustration of a man working at his desk with a laptop

“Even if costs go up – if you get that narrative right and quantify the value of what you’re creating, customers will support it.”

Gareth Dinnage, Managing Director, Seacourt

It’s not an easy time to be running a small business. But regardless of the challenges posed by the likes of the pandemic, rising inflation and Brexit, one very big problem that isn’t going away any time soon is climate change – and the requirement on all businesses, big and small, to reduce their carbon footprint.

British Business Bank’s recent report, Small Business and the Transition to Net Zero, found that while individually their impact is relatively small, SMEs account for 43-53% of the UK’s business greenhouse gas emissions. Collectively, they make a big impact, so every business can make a difference.

In a bid to understand the kinds of things small businesses can do, we hosted a Net Zero Heroes webinar bringing together a range of different businesses to discuss their sustainability journeys. Here are some of the key takeaways:

1. The challenge is big but so is the opportunity

Customers are looking to align themselves with businesses that are taking action against climate change and driving sustainability. “People vote with their feet and want to spend their hard earned money with brands that resonate with them,” says Gareth Dinnage, managing director of printing company, Seacourt. “The opportunity to be transparent and show ambition is huge.”

2. Bigger businesses are looking for sustainable supply chain partners

Established companies are starting to look to their supply chains to see sustainability goals and values. Smaller companies who lead on green initiatives can gain competitive advantage. “Larger companies are led by compliance and regulatory burden, so they are perhaps a few steps ahead and starting to look to their supply chains for sustainability,” explained Shanika Amarasekara, British Business Bank, Chief Impact Officer. “This is an opportunity for smaller businesses to shine.”

3. Don’t wait for perfection

Once smaller businesses are on their sustainability journey, it’s easy to become focused on finding perfect solutions before launching them but this can hold them back. “Sometimes we wait for perfection to announce or launch anything new,” says Mama Bamboo CEO and Sales Director, Laura Crawford. “Actually, some of the tiny changes we can make along the way to individual processes can make a big difference.”

4. Work with your manufacturers to find answers

If businesses aren’t sure where to start in creating a more eco-friendly product, they start a dialogue with suppliers and manufacturers to find the answers they need. “For us it has been a collaborative process,” says Trash Planet founder, Holly Boxall, who has developed a new sustainable trainer. “We were lucky to find a manufacturer who was open to new ideas and flexible in the way they work. We were able to start at the end goal and work backwards.”

5. Collaboration is key

Inspiration about how you can improve your business processes and products from an ESG perspective can come from other companies. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other in different sectors and those further ahead in the journey,” said Amarasekara. “It’s interesting to hear from those who have used being green as an opportunity to push business growth and learn from them.”

6. Create a powerful narrative

Cost can seem to be a big barrier when it comes to creating more sustainable products. For those who need to increase their prices as a result, a strong narrative around quality and the value to customers is essential. “We had to invent new technology to achieve our goals and that kind of thing costs money but that’s fine as long as the customer feels the value,” explains Dinnage. “If you get that narrative right and quantify the value of what you’re creating, customers will support it.”