Scottish small businesses lagging behind other regions with sustainability plans, according to new report

Thursday 20th April 2023

Despite the overwhelming acknowledgement of the importance of environmental issues, leaders of Scottish small businesses are less likely to prioritise tackling climate change than in other parts of the UK.

This is according to findings from Novuna Business Finance’s Small Business Sustainability Report 2023, an annual report looking at the attitudes among small businesses towards sustainability, and the action they are taking themselves and within their supply chains. The research polled more than 1,000 small business leaders over the last 12 months, looking at the broader context in which small businesses are operating, the support and guidance they are lacking, and opinions of what more should be done to tackle pressing issues.

Scottish businesses least likely to have net zero plans

The results showed positive signs with nearly 9 in 10 business leaders in Scotland said the environment has become more important to them now than a year ago. However, while 11% said they were already a net zero business, almost half (47%) did not have a formal plan in place to date (vs 42% national average), with a further 13% saying becoming a sustainable business was not important to them (vs 10% national average).

Additionally, business leaders in Scotland were close to twice as likely to say curbing carbon emissions was not a priority concern for their business (23% vs 14% average), while almost three in 10 (29%) said ‘greening’ their supply chain was not a priority (vs 18% nationwide).

Frustrations within the small business community

The research also found that businesses in Scotland were among the most likely to have frustrations with climate change inactivity within their sector and broader community. Around three in 10 (29%) said that cutting carbon emissions did not seem to be a priority within the business community (more than twice the national average of 13%). Chief among the concerns, leaders felt there were too many businesses that don't seem to be taking carbon emissions seriously (27% vs average of 24%), or that there was not enough happening within the community to reduce carbon emissions (24% vs 22% average).

Similarly, business leaders in Scotland were significantly more likely than average to be frustrated that no one was doing enough to tackle climate change – from government bodies to individuals (26% vs average of 19%).

Other pressures taking priority

The cost of living crisis did push back net zero as an immediate business priority in 2022 as financial worries dominated. Scottish business leaders were among the most likely to say that other challenges had pushed tackling climate change down the list of priorities. Most notably 57% were grappling with the cost of living crisis (vs 47% national average), while 37% said the long term impact of Brexit was a more pressing concern (vs 23% average).

As the engine room of the economy, the importance of buy-in from small business leaders to the UK’s move to net zero cannot be understated. Many small business owners have struggled to maintain a focus on net zero whilst grappling with the economic ravages of Covid and then a seismic cost of living crisis. There are also issues when it comes to information and guidance which urgently need to be tackled.

Whilst Scottish businesses are slightly behind with sustainability plans, the data shows there is still a strong desire from business leaders to address the pressing issues of climate change. The immediate challenge is to channel this into tangible outcomes. As the abundance of green alternatives for businesses increases, and with costs gradually decreasing as a result, the option for small businesses to go green becomes very real. Even with the cost of living crisis, we are quickly reaching the point where the green option is also the affordable one, which will be a win-win for everyone.

Geoff Maleham

Managing Director

Novuna Business Finance