SMEs and Net Zero: A Personal Reflection on the Principal Challenges for Researchers and Policymakers

Blundel, Richard (2022). SMEs and Net Zero: A Personal Reflection on the Principal Challenges for Researchers and Policymakers. In: 2022 ISBE Annual Conference: New Approaches to Raising Entrepreneurial Opportunity: Reshaping inclusive Enterprise, Policy, and Practice Post-Pandemic, 27-28 Sep 2022, York, UK.



Topic: The paper is a personal reflection on the challenges posed by the urgent need to reduce the carbon emissions arising from the activities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and internationally. It focuses on issues facing researchers and policymakers, and on the inter-connections between these two groupings.

Applicability: The paper makes a direct connection to the ISBE 2022 conference theme by bridging between the worlds of enterprise, policy and practice. It does so by drawing on the authors experiences, which include roles as a researcher, reviewer, academic / scientific advisor on recent policy reviews and reports that address SME decarbonisation, and as a member of an SME Net Zero working group convened by the UK government department responsible for business, energy and industrial strategy.

Aim: The main aims are to present a critical reflection on the research, policy, and practice challenges associated with the decarbonisation of SMEs, and to promote a wider discussion of these issues, and their practical application in the UK and internationally.

Methodology: The author presents a personal critical reflection that draws on several sources of evidence. These will include the following: 1. Research collaborations over the last decade, which have examined issues such as, SME perspectives on ‘greening’, the experiences of business advisors working with SMEs, and how particular types of intervention might increase the effectiveness of their engagement with SME owners and managers; 2. Reviews of related research literatures, which provide an contextualised overview of the field; 3. The authors’ personal experience, arising from recent formal and informal engagement with policymakers and practitioners who are directly involved in the governance of the Net Zero transition. The types of evidence obtained from these sources includes: qualitative analysis of interviews and ‘observant participation’ (Seim, 2021). As a working paper, the analysis remains informal, but the core arguments are fully-supported with reference to these triangulated sources.

Contribution: There is an urgent need for a stronger evidence base on SME decarbonisation policy and practice. This paper seeks to spark further discussion of the issues amongst researchers, and encourage the new multidisciplinary collaborations that are needed to move this research agenda forward. It is designed to align with the interests of the ISBE Social, Environmental and Ethical Enterprise track, and to encourage links with another emerging cross-institutional grouping of researchers who are active in this field (details omitted for anonymity reasons).

Implications for policy: the large-scale decarbonisation of SMEs is a key priority for public policy in the UK and beyond. More effective policymaking will contribute to achieving national and international climate change targets, while also helping to address strategic implications of today’s over-reliance upon internationally-traded hydrocarbons.

Implications for practice: Decarbonisation of SMEs forms an important part of the ongoing process of mitigating climate-related risks faced by businesses and communities. The initiatives discussed in this paper also have the potential to deliver a number of co-benefits. These include a reduction in local air and water pollution, which are particular problems in countries that are more reliant on fossil-fuels, such as coal and oil, as a source of primary energy for businesses. Business-level changes such as increased energy efficiency, demand reduction and the switch to renewable and locally-generated sources, can also lower the cost of production, guard against large, unexpected price increases of the kind experienced globally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and to increase the resilience of SMEs to future sources of economic and socio-political turbulence.

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