Opinion

Green business is in vogue, and UK SMEs are leading the charge

5 min read

17 June 2019

The UK Government has issued a low-emissions target which means businesses have to change the way they operate. But many SMEs already have.

Many people are unclear about what the Government’s new greenhouse gas emission target will mean for them. This was also true of the many commentators wheeled out to discuss whether the reduction – to virtually zero – is achievable and if such a noble gesture will make any difference at a global level.

How is the UK planning to ‘go green’?

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Some talked about giving up the ability to buy seasonal produce, such as strawberries, all year round and reducing the number of flights we take abroad.

The vagueness is deliberate because if the Government is earnest in setting such a noble example to other countries, the necessary measures will touch every part of our lives – and businesses.

It will signal an end to traditional gas boilers and petrol and diesel vehicles. With a wholesale switch to electric vehicles, we will be asked to adopt a range of new technologies, such as hydrogen central heating to improve the efficiency of our homes and workplaces.

Other likely measures will include the introduction of a meat-lite diet to reduce the number of methane-producing cows in our fields, replaced by solar panels and wind turbines. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a family man whose business is guided by family values.

How we’re becoming a ‘green business’ at Pimlico Plumbers

I might not be a tree-hugger, but I do recognise that things must change if the kids of today are to have any kind of future. That’s why at Pimlico I’ve already added electric vehicles to our low-emission fleet, and I champion the supply of energy-efficient technology.

UK SMEs are leading the charge in ‘low carbon business’

I’m sure there are yet unthought of consequences to achieving zero greenhouse emissions. But I’m also convinced there are very real opportunities for SMEs to lead the way and benefit from such a seismic change.

There are already a host of start-ups developing innovative low carbon technology, whilst in the UK, SMEs comprise more than 90% of the low carbon sector.

Not only will there be opportunities to produce low carbon or sustainable goods and services, but there will also be the creation of new markets in such areas as renewable energy, food, and transport.

We succeeded in the smoking ban, so why can’t the UK change its emissions habits too?

It’s only 12 years since the smoking ban was introduced and that – along with other measures – succeeded in changing a nation’s habits to such an extent that it’s unusual to see someone puffing on a cigarette these days.

I’m convinced the same will happen as we adapt to more sustainable lifestyles – which will create opportunities in every business sector.

It will be interesting to see if the Government is prepared to go further and grasp the opportunity to re-establish an efficient manufacturing industry on these shores.

To change its emissions habits, the UK needs to look at its importing habits

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As our own manufacturing industry has rapidly declined in recent decades, we have correspondingly imported more and more goods from overseas, especially from China – the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases. If the UK is brutally honest it will not only count the greenhouse gasses emitted here but those generated by manufacturing and importing the goods we buy, which are made abroad.

To combat this, we would need to introduce a carbon tax which would increase the cost of imported goods. This could stimulate the rebirth of a new low carbon manufacturing industry here in the UK.

Such a tax would effectively act as a trade barrier and this country would be forced to return to being more self-reliant, innovative and responsive. However, the Government hasn’t made it clear where the costs will fall, and it must not simply leave SMEs to bear the burden.

Looking forward

So yes, let’s finally stop burying our head in the sand and do something – but it must be considered, carefully planned and fully-supported by government. Sadly, restricting yourself to eating strawberries during Wimbledon fortnight, isn’t going to be enough. Especially if the rest of the world is happy to tuck into them all year-round.