SMEs need Government support as businesses race to reach net zero: Mike Briffett

According to a report published by the United Nations on Climate Change, there is very little chance that we can stop the planet warming by more than 1.5C.

Indeed, it looks like we will breach that by the 2030s. So now the plan seems to be more about accepting that we are going to overshoot this milestone and set about making sure we are ready and willing to bring it back down as quickly as is possible.

The report reminds Governments of the pressing need to transform transport, industry and energy systems to make low carbon choices that are both more affordable and accessible for consumers and businesses.

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In November last year, several nations tried in vain to get the UN to agree to phase out oil and gas as well as coal. But these sorts of agreements are way beyond the power and control of the SME’s that

Mike Briffett shares his expert insightMike Briffett shares his expert insight
Mike Briffett shares his expert insight

support our local economies.

Last month the Chamber brought together businesses from around West and North Yorkshire to discuss the challenges of moving to net zero and supporting the climate emergency.

There was consensus that much of what needs to be done sits with Government and there was significant concern that it is failing to act with the necessary speed and clarity of purpose; why else would you shelve one leg of a HS2 and delay the other?

What else was clear though, was the absolute frustration of small business owners to the lack of information in amongst the myriad of competing challenges they face day to day. Brexit has made it more difficult to compete in Europe. Rising energy prices have squeezed margins. The fall-out of the Mini Budget has seen interest rates soar. And in the meantime, the Government sees fit to punish the hard-working SME business community with over-regulation.

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The larger corporations can navigate and understand their contribution and pathway to net zero.

They have departments staffed with credentialed experts and highly qualified consultants to guide them in this journey.

But for most businesses this is an unaffordable and unworkable luxury. Our Chamber network is predominantly made up of SMEs. We engage with them frequently and they all want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability. They know it makes good sense for the planet, their customers and their teams of people. But where on earth do they find the time to engage, discover and implement, let alone the money to invest?

Yet I see hope. I am immensely impressed by the lead being taken by some organisations, aware of their responsibilities to the planet and its people. I applaud the leadership being taken by Lloyds Bank, promoting best practice, creating green investment funds and engaging with their customers.

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Likewise, Leeds Building Society, who put their money where their mouth is and co-located all their Leeds colleagues in a recycled, energy efficient building that put the environment and wellbeing at its heart.

It is my experience that we all want to do the right thing and sharing our stories and examples of best practice between businesses is a sure-fire way for us to ensure SME’s and big business can play their part in the journey to net zero with ideas that also make great business sense.

In the meantime, we all just have to hope that Government can get its act together quickly enough to solve the big-ticket stuff that we can’t. I know what you are thinking.

Mike Briffett is President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce