Small businesses driving the pace needed to mitigate climate crisis

Thursday 31st August 2023

  • 60% increase in small businesses who say they are placing sustainability at the heart of their business strategy, compared with 12 months ago (31% ‘22 vs 50% in ‘23)
  • Despite 2050 being 27 years away, 14% of small businesses say they are already Net Zero
  • 71% see sustainability as an opportunity to diversify and grow their businesses.

The last 12 months has seen a seismic change in small businesses attitude and behaviour towards meeting Net Zero targets, according to new research from Novuna Business Finance.

With the recent Climate Change Committee reporting a lack of urgency in the UK Government’s progress and delivery of Net Zero targets, the research asked small businesses about their efforts towards carbon emissions and approach towards sustainability. The findings suggested the determination of small business owners who are not waiting for action and are setting their own targets, with half of small businesses (50%) saying they have a strategic plan in place and are on target to be a Net Zero business – a 60% increase on the same proportion a year ago (31%).

Meanwhile, the proportion taking some small steps to reduce their carbon footprint has fallen significantly (from 45% in 2022 to 29% in 2023), suggesting a gear shift change in their approach.



 % increase/ decrease

We have an active plan and target to be a net zero business




We've taken some small steps but don't have a formal carbon reduction plan in place




We are already a net zero business




It's not of importance to us and we have no measures in place




Businesses with a plan and are doing the ‘right thing’.

Over 4 in 5 (83%) who already have an active plan and target to be a net zero business see sustainability as an opportunity to diversify and grow their business. Encouragingly, even businesses who don’t make money from being sustainable are doing the right thing, with 15% of these businesses having an active plan in place and 38% without a plan taking active small steps. Businesses in Scotland (59%) and London (55%) were most likely to be placing sustainability at the heart of their business strategy, compared with 41% of businesses in Wales. Urban based businesses are much more proactive than rural based businesses (55% vs 44%). Encouragingly, the manufacturing sector is leading the way, with 60% of businesses saying they have an active plan in place.

Net Zero businesses

Businesses based in the North East have seen their efforts towards reducing carbon emissions rewarded, with 24% based in the region having achieved net zero status, followed by businesses in Wales (23%) and Yorkshire (20%). Rural based businesses are leading the charge (19%) compared with urban (14%) and suburban businesses (11%).

No urgency, no plan

Despite the efforts of many small businesses, there are still a minority of businesses who don’t see the importance of the net zero target. This view was most widely held by businesses who have no sustainability plans in place and have no intention of making any changes in the future (35%).

These research findings are testament to the hard work and commitment small businesses are making to minimise their carbon footprint. It should not be forgotten that small businesses have had a challenging year, with rising energy prices, inflation and the cost-of-living concerns all adding to the pressures of running a business. The fact that there has been a significant increase in businesses taking bigger steps to achieving their Net Zero target should be celebrated.

Small Businesses sit at the heart of our economy, they power growth, local jobs, support the community and, as such are in the perfect position to influence and drive change on climate action. At Novuna Business Finance, sustainability is at the heart of our business and we provide finance to help small businesses grow as sustainable enterprises and support them in whichever way that they feel is most suitable for their business. We are all on a collective journey towards sustainability and this research provides valuable insight into a how small businesses see these important  issues and understand how we can better support them achieve their goals.

Jo Morris

Head of Insight

Novuna Business Finance

Additional tables

Small businesses’ approach to sustainability

We see it as an opportunity to diversify and grow our business


We don't make any money from being sustainable, but we are prepared to invest money to do the right thing


I don't know


Notes to editors

The research was conducted by MaruBlue among a representative sample of 1,027 small business decision makers.