Business Attitudes to Net Zero

Business attitudes to net zero: before and during the Coronavirus pandemic

Before the pandemic

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Our first survey, which we ran in February 2020, found that almost all responding businesses said they were taking some form of action to reduce carbon consumption, with ‘concern for the environment’ being the stated rationale. 

Most actions were to reduce waste within existing business models, for example recycling paper and plastic, and reducing travel. 

There were substantial differences between large and small firms, with smaller firms less likely to take action, and also less likely to say they faced barriers.

Specific Insights:

1. Climate Change and Severe Weather

  • Less than one-quarter had completed a climate change risk assessment
  • Around one-quarter stated their firm or their supply chain has ‘medium’ or ‘high’ exposure to severe weather
  • Half of firms had not taken mitigation measures, with larger firms far more likely to act
  • The most common measures include continuity plans and insurance

2. Decarbonisation

  • Half agreed that decarbonisation gives their firm a competitive advantage, increasing to almost three-quarters for larger firms
  • 15% measured carbon usage and one-fifth had targets to reduce carbon
  • Most firms were taking measures which include recycling paper / plastics and LED lighting
  • Three-quarters cited environmental concerns’ as the reason for taking action, followed by cost saving
  • One in ten would place requirements on suppliers
  • Cost was considered the top barrier to decarbonising; however smaller firms were more likely to say they face no barriers
  • Firms cited a wide variety of enablers for decarbonising, including grants, electric vehicles, and better infrastructure

3. Awareness and engagement

  • There were low levels of awareness for specific schemes, regulations, or initiatives:
    • 17% knew details about minimum energy efficiency standards; 59% had never heard of this
  • There were higher levels of awareness for wider policy:
    • 64% knew details about Clean Air Zones; 8% had never heard of it
  • If environmental taxes were introduced, two-thirds would want positive incentives to gain compliance
  • Overall, businesses cited their local Chamber of Chamber as the top source of information on climate change or carbon reduction (28%)
  • However, larger firms were far more likely to gain info from in-house experts/consultants, climate change bodies, or regulators, than smaller firms

4. Cost expectations

  • Over the coming year, three-quarters of firms expected their input costs to increase, rising to 85% for larger firms
  • To manage cost increases, two-thirds expected to increase prices and 40% expected to take lower margins

About the survey: 1,008 businesses were surveyed during January and February 2020.  62% imported and / or exported internationally; 32% worked in manufacturing and 68% in services and 92% were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees.

During the pandemic

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We ran our second survey during the pandemic, in August 2020. As many businesses went into distress, focus on net zero had dropped noticeably:

  • Only 38% agreed that they fully understood the term ‘net zero’ and the implications for their business, whilst 21% disagreed and said they didn’t understand the term
  • Compared to the February 2020 Net Zero Survey:
    • Fewer firms were measuring their carbon footprint (5%, down from 15%)
    • Fewer firms had targets for reduction (15%, down from 21%)

  • Larger firms were more likely to have measures in place
  • A third of firms did not consider net zero to be a priority at the time of the survey
  • More than two-thirds had either never heard of COP26, or knew the name only

About the survey: 527 businesses were surveyed during August 2020.  Approximately 45% imported and / or exported internationally; 25% worked in manufacturing and 75% in services and 98% were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees.