Over the past few years, sustainability has become more than just another buzzword. It has evolved into something that is an unavoidable part of our lives for both businesses and the wider public alike.
From a business perspective, environmentally-friendly practices have a range of benefits when conscientiously integrated into day-to-day operations. As expectations on corporate responsibility increase and transparency become more important than ever, businesses of all sizes and operating in all industries are recognising the need to act on sustainability, now.
But while it’s clear that SMEs understand the importance of increasing their sustainability credentials, our most recent Collaborate UK research into the attitudes of SMEs found that they are divided when it comes to deciding what they should prioritise. So, what should the UK’s businesses be focussing their attention on in the New Year?
1. The supply chain
Emission-controlled zones are nothing new, but they have skyrocketed in popularity over the last 12 months. What began with the implementation of the UK’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in London in April 2019, has become an effort by cities across the UK, such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, York and Cambridge who are looking to follow suit to implement their own Clean Air Zones. And where ULEZ is concerned, businesses that operate in the outer areas of the Capital must remember that they only have until 25th October 2021 until the emission zone is expanded to include the North and South Circular routes.
The good news is that research shows that ULEZ has had no impact for nearly half (48%) of London SMEs and those who have been impacted seem to be in favour of the policy — with nearly a fifth (19%) reporting a positive impact on their business.
In order to remain compliant with increasingly strict regulations, however, it’s essential for businesses to evaluate their entire supply chains. Doing this will not only ensure they’re informed about which part of their supply chains could be affected, but it will also help them safeguard against potential financial penalties. Thankfully, data has revealed that over a quarter of SMEs (28%) are already looking to improve their supply chain efficiency in 2020 — with 27% planning to switch to green suppliers or partners and 23% revealing they are going to take steps to reduce their supply chain CO2 emissions.
But while this is great to see, the key here is to remember that ultimately, each business will need to focus on different things, depending on their size as well as where suppliers and customers are based. As such, they shouldn’t restrict their focus, but instead, remain open-minded.
2. Eco-friendly fleets are a must.
According to our research, just 17% of UK businesses are looking to switch to alternative/ electric vehicles in the next 12 months. This is a worryingly low number — particularly given that the number and range of environmentally-friendly vehicles is constantly expanding, meaning there’s something out there to suit every business’ needs and budget.
For instance, bicycles — both manual and electrically-assisted — are great for the swift delivery of smaller items in urban areas, whereas cargo bikes (which are constantly rising in popularity) are a fantastic alternative to small vans. And let’s not forget electric or hydrogen-fuelled cars and vans; given their negligible tailpipe emissions and the fact that charging is low-cost — the benefits of these are undeniable.
But while it’s extremely encouraging to see that a fifth of businesses are planning for the future and intend to set targets to achieve sustainability, it’s clear that businesses are in dire need for the Government to do more to help — with 62% revealing they don’t feel there is enough support or incentives to adopt more sustainable policies. Other areas where businesses are keen for additional Governmental support to include investment in infrastructure like charging points and advice on how legislation may be changing in terms of sustainability requirements.
With sustainability-focused protests becoming increasingly prevalent and new research about the damaging effects of pollution dominating the news, it’s clear that the focus on air quality and sustainability is more than just a trend.
The UK’s businesses need to take a long-term view of how they operate and ensure that their sustainability objectives are at the core of everything they do. This proactive attitude, paired with additional support from the Government, is exactly what’s needed for the UK to power ahead and become a prime example of good practice to the rest of the world.
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