How can SMEs pursue their Net Zero goals?

We at Northern Gas and Power were principal sponsors for the UK’s first ever Net Zero Week, a government-backed awareness campaign dedicated to ideas, discussions, and solutions that will help lead us all to a decarbonised economy. It was a tremendous opportunity to bring the industry together to focus on our planet and our people. 

One of the biggest takeaways from the week was that small businesses will play a huge role in our Net Zero future. As it was discussed throughout Net Zero Week, small businesses can make a difference – individual change is just as important as systemic change. 

But to where, or to whom, can small businesses look for ideas and inspiration on the way forward to a decarbonised future? They can look to leaders in their own sector or industry for a “route map” to Net Zero. Additionally, with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference happening in November 2021, business and sectors will have more resources and initiative to get on track for Net Zero.

Looking towards COP26

The UK has been busy playing host to key summits and conferences centring on climate change. First, the UK hosted G7 nations in Cornwall in June, where Net Zero and decarbonisation were primary topics. The UK will soon host COP26, or the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow this November. 

Also known as the Conference of Parties, with “26” referring to the 26th session, this conference is set to be the biggest climate conference to date, with 197 nations and territories ready to join. It is also significant because this will be the first meeting in the conference’s history to review and enhance the landmark Paris Agreements.

The conference will be the biggest gathering of world leaders to ever meet in the UK. Acting as COP26 president, the UK plans to urge all countries to reach 2030 emissions reductions targets to stay on course for a Net Zero future by 2050.


COP26 is important too because its objective will be to get nations to stay on course to reach the targets set out by the Paris Agreements. According to the official COP26 website, “The world is currently not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.” A study from Worley and Princeton University confirms this, and in fact warns that we will not even reach half way towards our Net Zero goals.

This was confirmed more recently by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, stating that: “There is no scenario in which the world avoids breaching the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming set by the Paris Agreement.”

It is important that we reach Net Zero as soon as possible so that we do not further harm the environment through the harmful emissions of fossil fuels. These emissions are affecting our atmosphere, which is having further negative effects on the climate and on the livelihoods of every person on the planet. 

While reaching Net Zero targets may seem like the job for governments or environmentally focused organisations, businesses of all sizes play a part, too. No step is too small for SMEs to start decarbonising and embarking on your road to a cleaner, more sustainable, and more secure energy future.

Find how others in your sector are moving towards net zero

Businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), have been called upon to do their part in the race to Net Zero. Many SMEs, however, are not even at the starting blocks of this race. A recent poll found that nine out of ten SMEs in the UK measure their carbon emissions, with the “lack of in-house understanding” being the most common barrier to measuring carbon behind perceived costs. Soon, SMEs will be required to disclose these emissions.  If you are an SME, you may wonder “How?” and “Where do I start” on this so-called race to Net Zero?

It will be crucial for individual businesses and sectors to create their own paths to the same global Net Zero targets. There are examples of big corporations doing this same thing. Companies such as Nestle, Heineken, Philip Morris, IKEA, and many more have published how they plan to decarbonise and how they will do what is necessary towards the Net Zero goals.  

Not all businesses, however, have the skills, resources, or expertise to create a Net Zero route map such as the ones mentioned above. It is clear that without proper guidance on how to decarbonise, companies lacking knowledge on how to decarbonise become demotivated to press on towards Net Zero. This is where the pooling of knowledge and assets by companies of the same sector can become effective.

The path towards Net Zero

The path towards Net Zero is uncharted territory for many, so it is understandable if you are not sure how to navigate it. That is why it is important for several companies, organisations, and entities to come and work together towards a cleaner energy future. 

If you are an SME who is not quite sure how to approach net zero, it can be very helpful to look towards others in your same sector and see how they are tackling the issue. Increasingly, individual sectors publish route maps towards net zero targets that make sense for their line of business while satisfying the requirements of climate change initiatives.

For example, the UK Green Building Council leads businesses in the building and construction sector to work together on Net Zero actions. Water companies can look to Water UK’s Net Zero 2030 plan for guidance and resources. The food and beverage sector has the Net Zero plan put forth by the Food and Drink Federation. These are just a few examples to be found and followed.

What if my sector does not have a Net Zero route map?

If you are operating in a sector which does not have a Net Zero route map, now is the time for you to step out as a leader and chart one. It will encourage other businesses in your sector to collaborate on a route map or for them to craft their own Net Zero plan. 

There are resources that can help you set your own Net Zero plan. The Local Government Association has a workbook to help local authorities create a path to Net Zero. Global engineering, management, and development agency Mott MacDonald described how they helped Water UK create their sector-specific route map.

The best place to start, according to the agency, is to determine your plan’s boundaries. They write: “Boundaries are unique to each organisation: will your net-zero target address just the emissions from your core business or market, or do you include other regions, franchises or subsidiaries? You also need to consider if you are just going to focus on emissions from your own facilities and energy use (Scope 1 and 2 emissions) or look at emissions within your value chain (Scope 3).”

There are plenty of resources available to help you get started. Even the smallest of steps towards a Net Zero goal will be a step taken in the right direction, and it will inspire others around you to take the same.

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