Monday 2 November 2020 4:56 am

It’s easy being green, but our entrepreneurs need the government to step up

Helen Booth is chief executive of The Enterprise Trust

Going into 2020, this was supposed to be a year of environmental action. 

The pandemic might have disrupted the set schedule, but while tackling Covid-19 has dominated the headlines, the appetite and ambition to fix the way we do things has not gone away.

Today, we are publishing a major study from The Enterprise Trust and the Entrepreneurs Network, which highlights the British entrepreneurs who are already playing a critical role in delivering the innovation that will help to overcome the urgent environmental challenges we face.

Read more: Investing in a greener future: How do we make the sums add up?

This group of remarkable individuals are solving a diverse range of issues. 

Alex Fisher’s firm, Saturn Bioponics, is designing systems capable of reducing soil degradation and habitat destruction, while also dramatically increasing yield by growing crops in 3D hydroponic towers. 

Jo-Jo Hubbard’s Electron platform makes it easier to manage demand for intermittent renewables such as wind and solar. 

And Too Good To Go co-founder Jamie Crummie has built a platform that works with restaurants, cafes, and retailers to reduce food waste.

These entrepreneurs are passionate about using their business talents to help make the planet a better place. And they are not alone. 

A poll we undertook of over 500 UK SMEs found that three fifths believe that the shift to a more sustainable economy presents opportunities for them to seize. In fact, only eight per cent disagree. The idea that going green and striving for economic prosperity are mutually exclusive aims is increasingly and demonstrably false. 

Our polling also showed how there is mounting pressure from consumers and employees for businesses to up their sustainable credentials. In fact, there is a genuine consumer-driven concern for a whole host of environmental issues to be addressed — from using more sustainable packaging, to businesses sourcing cleaner energy.

Entrepreneurs stand ready and waiting to help alleviate some of those issues — but the government has a vital role to play in facilitating this. It’s not just about setting various targets like reaching net-zero by 2050, however important they will be in focusing minds. Equally important will be removing or reforming certain regulatory barriers, as well as creating incentives for consumers to adopt greener habits to meet these ambitious goals. 

Our report found businesses are split on how well they think the government is doing in terms of this. Many (38 per cent) think it is doing neither well or badly, while slightly more think it is doing badly (30 per cent) than well (24 per cent).

That’s better than it could be, but it’s not exactly inspiring. So to help the government, we’ve outlined some practical ways in which it can remedy environmental market failures.

On one side of the equation, the government should make sure that when polluters damage the environment, they pay for the costs of doing so. On the other, it can incentivise entrepreneurs of innovative products and services which take less of a toll on the planet by sufficiently remunerating their inventiveness.

In all, we make 20 separate recommendations which the government could adopt to boost environmental entrepreneurship.

They straddle three broad areas: how to green our energy consumption, our transport systems, and the goods and services we buy on a daily basis.

To promote market opportunities in energy efficiency, for instance, we suggest making the Annual Investment Allowance (a tax break on capital expenditure for business purposes) unlimited. This should encourage businesses to more readily invest in newer and cleaner equipment — a boon to entrepreneurs, and to the planet, as demand for energy is lessened.  

As for transport, to kickstart the deployment of green hydrogen fuel, we recommend reforming how bus subsidies function. At present, cleaner buses can attract a lower amount of subsidy because these are largely allocated in accordance with fuel consumption. Switching to a subsidy model which rewards distance travelled would incentivise a shift away from polluting diesel, and towards cleaner alternatives, such as sustainable hydrogen.

There are many more ideas where those came from. Combined, their impact could be huge. 

The government — alongside the business community — has stated its desire to build back better. By working with Britain’s entrepreneurs, it can do just that: delivering a healthier economy, and a healthier environment too. 

Green Entrepreneurship is published today by the Enterprise Trust and The Entrepreneurs Network

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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