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A manifesto for change: How Government can support SMEs in their mission to be more sustainable

A manifesto for change: How Government can support SMEs in their mission to be more sustainable

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There are over six million SMEs across the UK, which accounts for 99% of the private business sector, accounting for 53% of the UK’s emissions. It can seem overwhelming when the headlines talk about cutting carbon emissions by a certain date. Gareth Dinnage from net positive business, Seacourt, shares tangible steps on how Government can assist SMEs to achieve net zero goals.

SMEs see the big picture ‘cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035’ headlines, coupled with events this year such as COP26, and feel bewildered about where to start in order to halt the climate crisis. What is missing are practical steps for everyday businesses to implement. There are over six million SMEs across the UK, which accounts for 99% of the private business sector, accounting for 53% of the UK’s emissions. The right help will not only drive widespread meaningful change, but it will also make it happen faster.

As we hopefully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now an appetite for sustainability so that we can return a little bit better. I passionately believe that SMEs are essential to delivering the ‘build back better’ mission. We generate employment, economic prosperity, innovation and bring social cohesion. With legislative attention on reducing carbon footprints, there are several key areas where Government can support the backbone of British business and provide the much-needed help towards being more sustainable.

Reward efforts

All SMEs need to decarbonise by 2050. A big target, and a headache for some. But there are significant levers that have a track record in driving change. For example, adding a 3p tax to plastic bags has almost completely changed consumer shopping behaviour with reusable bags the norm for spenders. It’s so straight forward.

Allowing a corporation tax benefit for SMEs which deliver more sustainable practices and take steps to reduce their carbon impact is just one way to achieve change. Government can also legislate to make companies report on carbon impacts. Showing an annual reduction in overall carbon footprint ought to be a passport to corporate tax breaks, and corporation tax could even be graded according to footprint.

In a tough economic climate, financial incentives are extremely impactful. Plus, as incubators of self-funded innovation, many SMEs are also pioneering new processes that can be applied to larger companies. Here at Seacourt, we have developed a waterless LED drying printing process called LightTouch in an effort to reduce our environmental impact with its revolutionary method now being employed by others around the world.

Cultivate best practice

Small business owners are commonly influenced by peer-reported success, as we all look to others to show how something is possible. I recommend Government provides a platform for sharing best practice, advice, recommendations, achievements and reported successes. As an SME which has worked hard to be as sustainable as we can be, I have a lot of learnings to share. I support other small businesses in their efforts to be more environmentally responsible and I love being part of a business’ sustainability journey. I’ve put some of my advice online at and broken it down into nine simple steps to transition to a low carbon business. This is just a start. More practical support is urgently needed.

Set meaningful targets

We have a huge amount of work to do. The first target is a 68% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030 – just nine years away. Government aspiration for this year however is to have 100,000 businesses committed to net zero by 2050. This is only 1.66% of SMEs and frankly unambitious. For SMEs to align with the goals of climate action, a clear roadmap is required. It has taken Seacourt 25 years to become a net positive business and that has meant many different changes and initiatives every year. As any SME leader knows, anything is possible when you have a target.

Think beyond elections

The priority level of climate change rises and falls depending on political terms, which are short. The long-term strategic goals that have been set out cannot be solved in the few years between elections. We need the stability of an ‘always on’ sustainability body that works within the next 29-year time frame, that is independent and has cross-party support. This function needs to be committed to the long-term goals to legislate change and ensure targets are met.

Better reporting

We are a manufacturer and still 95% of our impact is in our supply chain. Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into scopes. Scope one covers direct emissions from owned sources. Scope two covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity and gas consumed. Scope three includes all other indirect emissions that occur in the supply chain. It is important for SMEs to measure the impact of all three to have the full carbon footprint picture, and ultimately how to reduce it. This will mean that not only will Government be assisting SMEs to reach net zero but also reaching further along supply chains, creating widespread meaningful change.

Seacourt is now one of the most sustainable printing companies in the world. Through a sustainability journey we have reduced our carbon footprint to net positive, measured to verify our impact and we give back to support environmental sustainability. All of this is done to create planet positive printing. Our sustainable journey has been a third of our existence – we did not get to being a net positive business by firing a silver bullet. We have made many, many small incremental steps that have made the difference, year on year continually moving forwards. The only way to achieve net zero and halt the climate crisis is for Government to work hand in hand with SMEs. We power the UK economy and can power positive sustainable change too.

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