Sustainable Business in the UK

Small businesses recognise the importance of sustainability and are generally positive about increasing their sustainable activities.

Small Business Britain: Key Insights from the “Initial Green Shoots”

This report, from Small Business Britain, looks into the current landscape of sustainability within small businesses across the UK, with a focus on their perceptions, current activities, governmental impact, and the challenges they face.  Despite a growing awareness and commitment to sustainability, significant disparities exist in terms of actions taken, understanding of governmental intentions, and the influence of financial constraints.  The report provides a deep dive into how these elements are shaping small business approaches to sustainability.

Sustainability as a Growth Opportunity

Leverage and Knowledge Gap – 1 in 4 businesses see sustainability as a growth opportunity, but many lack the knowledge and application skills, needing external support and guidance.

Financial Impact and Constraints – Financial Limitations: 80% of small businesses are inclined to adopt sustainable practices, but nearly half cite financial limitations as a major barrier, with access to finance being the primary hurdle.

Lack of Governmental Support – Disconnect and Demand: Over a quarter of respondents feel unaffected by the Government’s net-zero commitments, highlighting a need for clearer communication and more direct, impactful support from governmental bodies.

External Support and Leadership Vacuum – Preferred Advice Sources: Businesses prefer advice from organisations like Small Business Britain over governmental sources, indicating a leadership void in guiding small businesses towards sustainable practices.

Opportunities for Action – Practical Support Needs: There is a consensus on the need for practical support, including financial aid (65% prefer grants), training, and mentoring to navigate sustainability effectively.

Recommendations for Enhancing Sustainability Efforts

1. Awareness and Education: Launch comprehensive campaigns to demystify sustainability benefits and practices for small businesses, emphasising long-term gains and cost-saving opportunities.
2. Governmental Strategy Rethink: Re-evaluate current government strategies to better align with small business needs, ensuring clarity, relevance, and accessibility of support.
3. Private Sector Involvement: Encourage the private sector to provide expertise, resources, and financial solutions to facilitate small business sustainability initiatives.
4. Community and Collaboration: Foster a collaborative ecosystem involving businesses, government, and educational institutions to share knowledge, best practices, and resources in sustainability.
5. Enhanced Support Structures: Develop targeted programs offering mentorship, training, and financial support tailored to small businesses’ unique sustainability challenges.

Executive Summary

Survey Overview: Conducted by BT, Small Business Britain, and Oxford Brookes Business School with over 2,000 small businesses.

Economic Climate: Limited growth opportunities amid a technical recession, high inflation, and elevated interest rates. Despite challenges, small businesses are poised to embrace growth in 2024, focusing on customer engagement and supply chain interaction.
Sustainability Importance: Sustainability is increasingly critical, driven by customer expectations and supply chain demands. However, businesses struggle with clarity on how to capitalise on these opportunities or address pressures effectively.   Support Scarcity: Less than 2% of surveyed businesses feel they have significant sustainability resources, seeking external partners or advisors for support.
Customer and Supply Chain Demands: Small businesses in the B2B supply chain face escalating demands from larger corporations, while those selling directly to consumers notice a shift towards spending aligned with values.
Educational Needs: There is a need to educate small businesses on the financial benefits of sustainability and provide solutions for financing sustainability projects.

Detailed Findings

  • Engagement Levels: 77% of small businesses have started their sustainability journey, but only 14% identify sustainability as central to their operations.
  • Regional Differences: Commitment to sustainability varies by region, with the East of England leading in businesses considering sustainability core to their operations.
  • Government Influence: The Government’s net-zero commitment has minimal direct impact on small businesses, indicating a need for more effective governmental influence and support.
  • Support Availability: A significant portion of businesses believe there is minimal support available, with 47% feeling unsupported in their sustainability efforts.
  • Financial Perspectives: Financial constraints are a major barrier, with 38% seeing sustainability as an additional cost. Younger businesses are more optimistic about the financial benefits of sustainability.
  • Personal Values as Drivers: Personal values drive sustainability decisions for 64% of business owners, with potential and current customers and suppliers also playing significant roles.
  • Preferred Support: Businesses express a clear preference for grants, training programs, and mentorship to advance their sustainability efforts.


Survey Demographics: The survey included businesses from various sectors and regions across the UK, with a mix of newly formed and established businesses.


Small businesses recognise the importance of sustainability and are generally positive about increasing their sustainable activities. However, significant challenges remain, including financial constraints, lack of support, and insufficient governmental influence. Addressing these challenges through enhanced support, clearer guidelines, and better access to funding is crucial for small businesses to contribute effectively to the UK’s net-zero goals and integrate sustainability into the core of their operations.

Here’s a link to the full Small Business Britain report.  Also available as an audio download, pdf, and executive summary in British Sign Language.


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