Thursday 30 September 2021 7:05 am

Small businesses will bear the burden of climate costs and reap few rewards

Alex Boyce is Co-founder and Chief operating officer at Fuzey

Climate is Covid on steroids, so says Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England. While the world has grappled with, and seemingly started to defeat, this coronavirus pandemic, the next challenge is going to be even harder.

The upcoming Cop26 conference in Glasgow is a bellwether moment for the fight against global warming. For two weeks in November, policymakers, scientists, and the private sector will come together to discuss the future of the planet, and hopefully take decisive action before it’s too late.

Big corporations will preach from the pulpit about what needs to be done. Shiny-toothed, marketing people from FTSE 100 companies will explain how “we all have to do our bit”, despite their businesses having polluted the world for decades. Suddenly, for net zero to be achieved, everyone has to pull their weight.

As is too often the case with these vital economic topics, small-to-medium-sized businesses have lost their voice in the debate. Cop26 boasts a litany of principal partners on its website, from Sky to Unilever to GlaxoSmithKline, and representatives from these organisations dominate the speaking lineups. Small businesses owners and leaders are conspicuously absent from the roll call. This is an ongoing problem, where the people who fuel much of our economy are excluded from the conversation. But without independent service providers and local businesses, we won’t meet our net zero aims.

Recent government figures show that SMBs account for 99 per cent of UK companies and 60 per cent of private sector jobs. But when it comes to macro-economic policy, they are apparently expected to go along with whatever government and big business decide is best for them.

Small businesses will bear the burden of climate costs and reap no rewards

The glaring problem is simple: going green is expensive. Corporations can move money around to reflect the growing importance of sustainability, but your local landscaper, electrician, or mechanic doesn’t have that kind of flexibility. 

Margins are tighter, and the kind of operational overhaul required to hit net zero is often unrealistic. If you need to drive your van to a job 50 miles away, you’re going to do that – the train isn’t feasible, and an electric truck is probably out of reach.

Not only that but the perks of sustainability are largely wasted on small businesses. Consumers may consider carbon emissions when selecting who to bank with or what product to buy online, but not when their kitchen is filling with water and they needed a plumber yesterday.

The fight against climate change is just another example of SMBs being asked to come along for a ride without being offered the agency to contribute to the direction we move in. It’s these kinds of professionals who will be forced to implement sustainable solutions, installing eco-friendly boilers, car engines, and so forth. But I’d love to know how many plumbers and mechanics have actually

been in the room during policy-making processes.

If we are to move forward on climate-related issues, there needs to be greater respect for the SMB segment. Independent practitioners need to be (and feel) heard. They are the ones that should be speaking at COP26, to share their experience-laden perspectives. They should be driving green policy, not just implementing it at the behest of government and big business.

The pandemic hit SMBs especially hard. I’m sure we can all remember conversations with local businesses (at a two-metre distance!) about how tough times were.

As we move past the pandemic, and begin this next big fight, the small-to-medium-sized business community is the key to substantive change. Having been the bedrock of society for centuries, in the modern economy the SMBs seem to have lost their voice.

On climate, they need to have a seat at the policy table. That way they can reclaim their power, and help shape the future, green economy we so desperately need to embrace.

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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