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New research reveals gaps in knowledge and support are preventing UK SMEs from taking action on climate change

To coincide with Earth Day 2023, GS1 UK and FuturePlanet have launched a new report to help UK SMEs identify and act on opportunities for powering sustainability.

London, 21 April 2023 – In the first phase of their new partnership, the two membership organisations have surveyed their respective communities to create a comprehensive picture of the challenges that small businesses face in taking action on climate change.

Their research found that while motivation is high, there remain significant blockers preventing SMEs from implementing change and that more support is needed to help them act.

71 per cent of organisations said their employees ‘feel empowered to take action’, with three quarters listing ‘personal beliefs’ as one of their top five motivators. 60 per cent said it was ‘the right thing to do’ and 64 per cent felt acting on sustainability was a part of their culture.

More time, money and knowledge needed

However, knowledge gaps and budget constraints are still holding many organisations back. Less than half (47 per cent) of those surveyed had access to training on how to integrate sustainability practices into their work, more than 40 per cent had no sustainability KPIs, two thirds (63 per cent) had either a very limited sustainability budget or none at all, and 15 per cent did not know where to begin on their sustainability journey.

A lack of time and resource represented two of the most significant blockers. Just 10 per cent of respondents were sustainability professionals, while the remaining 90 per cent were time-pressed CEOs, founders and those in operational roles, highlighting the need to create support and training for non-experts.

Reporting and regulation as a lever for change

Low awareness of how to utilise targets and methods of reporting also presented key challenges. Less than half (42 percent) intended to ‘implement or improve science-based targets’ and, of those that have, only 17 per cent have publicly shared their CO2 reduction targets. This, combined with the fact that less than 3 per cent of respondents cited regulatory risks as a primary motivator for improving sustainability, suggest that a more effective regulatory framework could provide SMEs with much needed guidance.

Tackling costs

The research also highlighted how economic pressures are impacting progress, with 65 per cent flagging the rising cost of goods as the biggest challenge currently facing their business. However, only 34 per cent have passed these costs on to their consumers.

Considering that UK consumers are prepared to pay on average 25 per cent extra for greener alternatives. This dynamic represents an opportunity to give business leaders the confidence to price the value of their products and services accordingly and to support SMEs in building communities of conscious customers.

Room for optimism

While there are certainly challenges to overcome, GS1 UK and FuturePlanet’s research also reveals some of the steps their members are already taking to build more sustainable businesses.

65 per cent of respondents have changed product designs or dropped entire ranges to reduce their environmental impact, a further 65 per cent have implemented ‘clear sustainable packaging priorities’ and 75 per cent are engaging with their consumers on the sustainable attributes of their products or services.

66 per cent said ‘reducing plastics and harmful materials for packaging’ was a priority and were focused on ‘business waste reduction’, while

63 per cent said switching to more sustainable materials was high on their agenda.

59 per cent were committed to ‘implementing energy efficient measures’ and 64 per cent said reducing greenhouse emissions (CO2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, etc) was a near-term priority for their business.

While this does leave room for optimism, the research still highlights a lack of comprehensive action from many businesses to solve the crises of biodiversity loss, climate change and inequality. The solutions are out there but not always visible, so GS1 UK and FuturePlanet are calling for more to be done, at speed and at scale, to support SMEs on their sustainability journeys. There is an immediate need for widespread collaboration, knowledge sharing and collective action to ensure awareness drives change.

Carl Pratt, founder of FuturePlanet, said: “SMEs are in a unique position to drive change. It is estimated that SMEs account for half of all UK business-driven emissions, and almost a third of all current UK greenhouse gas emissions including those from households, industry and government. While SMEs may lack the resources of larger organisations, they can be far more agile, making it easier to implement change and lay the foundations for sustainability early on.”

Sarah Atkins, CMO and membership director of GS1 UK, said: “Our globally recognised standards are used to identify, capture and share data on vast swathes of products, providing us with the capacity to help businesses understand, monitor and share invaluable insights on their supply chains. We have already used this data to support businesses in adopting ambitious new commitments on sustainability, and make demonstrable improvements on emissions, energy, heat, transport, waste, water and biodiversity. However, as our research shows, there is still much more to be done if we are to help smaller businesses fulfil their potential for enhancing the sustainability agenda.”

GS1 UK and FuturePlanet’s full findings and recommendations for accelerating change have been published in a new report which can be downloaded here.

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Notes to editors

For further information or requests for interviews, contact Alex Cox: 07464 946 769; alexander.cox@gs1uk.org.

For more information and to access the report, please visit: www.gs1uk.org/insights/thought-leadership/supporting-SMEs-to-create-a-more-sustainable-future

About GS1 UK

Whether online, in store or in a hospital, the common language of GS1 global standards is helping our community of more than 58,000 organisations across Britain to uniquely identify, describe and track anything, creating greater trust in data for everyone.

From product barcodes to patient wristbands, GS1 standards have been transforming the way we work and live for 50 years. GS1 UK is one of 116 neutral and independent GS1 organisations operating worldwide.

www.gs1uk.org / @gs1uk

About FuturePlanet

FuturePlanet is a community of action. By working with a range of partners, we aim to create a more circular, equitable, regenerative and sustainable world.

Our cross-sector, cross-functional community empowers businesses by providing solutions and support on impact challenges and facilitating collaboration to discover opportunities for action.

We help our members map out impact themes from biodiversity and carbon reduction, all the way through to waste and water. Then, through a programme of activities and curated working circles, we connect them with peers who can help them to achieve their goals.

www.futureplanet.love / @ourfutureplanet