Help us on the journey to Net Zero, say NI small businesses

‘Only one in 10 small firms in Northern Ireland have measured their carbon emissions’

By Claire Cartmill
Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 6:00 am

As world leaders meet in Glasgow this week for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which will set the global framework for future action on climate, FSB has published ‘Accelerating Progress: Empowering small businesses on the journey to Net Zero’.

This timely report calls for small businesses to be engaged, enabled and encouraged as we work together to address the global challenge of climate change.

Key findings include:

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‘Accelerating Progress: Empowering small businesses on the journey to Net Zero’

67% of small businesses have increased recycling and nearly half take steps to eliminate waste wherever possible.

46% of small businesses now minimise site visits and use video conferencing in a change to their transport habits.

Just over a third (35%) say they have a plan to reduce their impact on the environment.

However, nearly three quarters (74%) of small businesses in NI say they do not know how to measure carbon emissions.

Only one in 10 small firms in NI have measured their carbon emissions.

Nearly half (45%) still cite lack of electric vehicle infrastructure or inefficient public transport (40%) as reasons for not doing more to adjust their transport habits.

58% of small businesses in NI say grants, or low interest loans to install energy efficiency measures, would encourage them to become more energy efficient.

Head of FSB Northern Ireland, Roger Pollen, said: “These figures indicate that although there are positive signs significant work is required in order to engage, enable and encourage small businesses to play their part in reducing carbon emissions. The NI Executive must step up to provide accessible and clear advice to help SMEs take action now.

“Many small businesses are already leading the way and identifying opportunities for clean growth, however, others need guidance in order to take the right steps. SMEs have demonstrated that, provided the right incentives are in place, they are keen to reduce their carbon footprint. Government must respond to this demand.

“With an increasing global trend towards electric vehicles, NI’s poor vehicle charging infrastructure continues to act as a barrier for boosting adoption of this mode of transport. This demonstrates the key role that the policy environment can play in determining the decisions that businesses and consumers make.”

The Report recommends a number of broad actions which can be taken to ensure SMEs are engaged in efforts to combat climate change across the areas of energy, waste, transport and finance. These include the following measures which are within the responsibility of the NI Assembly and Executive.

The NI Assembly should ensure Climate Change Legislation is passed within the current electoral mandate to avoid further delay and uncertainty. This legislation should include a statutory duty on officials to engage with small businesses by carrying out a Small and Micro Business Impact Test (SAMBIT) when developing future environmental policy.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) should establish a Climate Change Stakeholder Group which would help NI businesses to maximise dialogue and joint working to address the patchwork effect of current Northern Ireland environment policy. The Executive should also establish a dedicated webpage or microsite for businesses, with digestible advice to help businesses take action now.

Limited sustainability grants have also been available in NI on an intermittent basis. For example, the Covid-19 Energy Efficiency Capital Grant provided partial support for the installation of energy-efficient equipment, which helps to reduce cost and make carbon savings. However, many small businesses were unable to access this type of grant because it was only open to existing Invest NI clients or businesses eligible to become an Invest NI clients. The Department for the Economy should expand the eligibility for future schemes.

Non-Domestic business rates are a devolved matter for NI, and nearly half (45%) of small businesses noted that a discount would encourage investment in energy efficiency improvements. The Executive should follow steps taken by the Chancellor and ensure businesses are rewarded, not penalised, for investing in renewable energy in their business premises, with appropriate discounts on rate bills.

Roger added: “The response to climate change will require collaboration with small and large businesses, interest groups and all levels of government all pulling in the same direction. We need to ensure that there is a legislative framework in place for NI and that the requirement to consider small businesses is ‘hard-wired’ into any legislation which is passed by Stormont.

”SMEs in NI employ more people than all larger businesses and the public sector combined, so they are absolutely key to NI realising its climate ambitions. The scale of the challenge is great, but opportunities also lie in our response to climate change. In order to grasp them, policy must be done with small businesses, not done to them.”

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