Green shoots of growth: a quarter of UK SMEs view cuts to carbon emissions as a route to prosperity

New survey finds that four-fifths of UK small businesses (80%) want to increase their sustainability measures, yet two-thirds warn they have little or no support to do so.
May 16, 2024

Majority of UK SMEs have a desire to cut carbon emissions, with one in four viewing it as a growth opportunity

A new survey of 2,000 UK-based SMEs has found that an overwhelming majority – more than 80% – want to improve their sustainability credentials. The new report  Small business, green growth produced by Small Business Britain, revealed that almost one in four SMEs view cutting carbon emissions as an opportunity for business growth[i].

Encouragingly, 77% of businesses said that they have started their sustainability journey, with Founder of Small Business Britain, Michelle Ovens CBE, saying:

“There are mounting concerns about climate change and the transition businesses and society need to make in the coming years. Our research clearly shows that small business owners overwhelmingly want to go greener – driven by their own ethics as well as growing consumer expectations and supply chain demands.”[ii]

However, despite a strong desire to enact sustainability initiatives, two-thirds of the surveyed businesses said that they have little or no support within their business to do so. Conversely, just 2% of respondents said that there are significant sustainability resources at their disposal.

Awareness around sustainability challenges is mixed, with just under half (47%) of small businesses saying they understand the UK Government’s net-zero intentions by 2050. Further, the Government’s role in influencing business sustainability appears minimal, with 42% of businesses reporting little to no impact, highlighting a need for better information and communication.

Michelle Ovens CBE, noted:

“We need more leadership and ambition - across society, the private sector and with Government - to engage and educate this vital part of the economy and to find innovative solutions for the major challenges businesses now face, particularly around financing greener growth.”[iii]

The research findings highlight the need for government programmes, such as the UK Business Climate Hub, to be better advertised and promoted if they are to benefit SMEs. Launched last August, the UK Business Climate Hub has been created to provide businesses with access to brand-new guidance and assistance to lower their energy costs and carbon emissions. The BCH offers a free carbon calculator and a variety of new tools to assist businesses in measuring, tracking, and reporting their emissions as well as in saving money by using less energy[iv]. It provides in-depth guidance on everything from finding eco-friendly manufacturers and cutting freight and logistics emissions to the most economical ways to install solar panels and EV charging stations.  Click here to find out more.

Rising costs risk hampering the green transition

Small Business Britain’s survey also found a major challenge faced by SMEs was financial constraints when seeking to enact sustainability practices. With 41% identifying this as a barrier, it is perhaps no surprise that 65% of SMEs said they would like to see grants offered to help support them improve sustainability, with a further 32% asking for training programmes.

It follows research from NatWest Group released earlier this year which revealed that SMEs were being deterred from embracing sustainability initiatives due to rising costs. NatWest’s Sustainable Business Tracker, released in January, found that 35% of UK SMEs viewed sustainability action as a high priority for the next twelve months, down from 36% in Q3 2023, making it the joint-lowest score since the survey began in 2020[v].  NatWest noted that many survey respondents commented on the need to focus on rising business expenses given expectations of challenging economic conditions in 2024.

When asked to identify the specific obstacles faced in becoming sustainable in 2024, six-in-ten SMEs named ‘rising business costs’ as the major barrier in improving sustainability credentials. This was followed by the inability for SMEs to accurately measure their carbon footprint, a barrier identified by 31% of all respondents[vi]. The study noted that several companies reported challenges in obtaining information on carbon emissions from their suppliers- particularly those based overseas. Other barriers identified included a lack of customer demand for more sustainable products (26% of all SMEs) and difficulties in making a business case for sustainability in terms of cost savings (25%)[vii].


[i] BT Sustainability for Small Business (

[ii] UK risks “missing green growth among small businesses”, BT finds  |

[iii] UK risks “missing green growth among small businesses”, BT finds  |

[iv] As SMEs struggle with resource restraints and knowledge gaps in their pursuit of net zero, the UK government announces a new UK business climate hub (

[v] Rising costs deterring SMEs from embracing sustainability initiatives for 2024 (

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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