A new government-backed resource designed to help UK SMEs save cash while going green has gone live, with finance professionals among its intended beneficiaries.
Launched last month, the UK Business Climate Hub will provide the nation’s 5.5m SMEs with advice on a wide range of topics, from fitting a low-carbon heat pump and paying less for electric vehicles to generating green energy and selling it back to the grid.
Endorsed by the UK’s new Net Zero Council, the hub is supported by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, in partnership with multi-stakeholder environmental alliance the Broadway Initiative and the global SME Climate Hub, a not-for-profit initiative that helps organisations reduce their emissions.
Martin McTague, National Chair at Broadway Initiative partner the Federation of Small Businesses, says SME owners regularly cite a lack of accessible support, resources and advice as a major hindrance on their path to net zero. So, he continues: “The hub provides a single, easy-to-find point of reference, complete with trustworthy tools and data, to help them navigate the transition.”
The hub will also help accountants get up to speed on a vital but complex subject area that is not necessarily their core specialism, says Broadway Initiative Convenor Edward Lockhart-Mummery: “The site contains links to and information about the financial support available to accountants’ clients, which will become more and more important as this policy area develops. And of course, many accountants and finance professionals are themselves SMEs.”
Lockhart-Mummery says the vision for the hub is to inform and inspire: “We want it to be the go-to content for banks, trade bodies and professionals who are helping SMEs to net zero – boosting the consistency of recommendations that SMEs receive and reducing duplication of guidance.”
Initial case studies feature thoughts from organisations as varied as green finance specialists ekko, sustainability-driven architecture firm Make and Glyndebourne Opera House. As more case studies are added, the hub has the potential to help businesses identify the opportunities created by the development of a net-zero economy. “It’s vital that it continues to improve and adapt to new challenges and developments that will arise,” McTague says.
SMEs, including those in the professional services sector, will be able to access industry-specific net zero plans and there will be key points of interest for accountants and the finance function, McTague explains: “These include measures such as improving energy efficiency through building-retrofit schemes, transitioning to renewable energy sources, reducing waste via recycling and composting, implementing sustainable transportation options for employees and engaging in sustainable procurement practices.”
Good business sense
As a lack of capital and unclear returns on investment are key barriers preventing small businesses from investing in net zero, the advice and support of accountants will be crucial in helping them to understand the range of funding options available – as well as the tax implications.
The hub contains information on funding and support available in different UK nations and regions – a useful resource for accountants advising small businesses, as well as the business owners themselves, McTague says.
Lockhart-Mummery believes reducing emissions goes hand in hand with futureproofing operations and reducing energy costs, so often makes good business sense. “Advisers may want to guide clients through the process towards net zero explained on the website,” he says, “basing their advice on the hub’s content and maybe starting by calculating business carbon emissions, using one of the tools identified on the site.”
Advisers can also develop a deeper expertise, to help clients identify a longer list of possible actions. “Certainly, some actions can get quite technical quite quickly – in which case, helping a client to identify the right kind of specialist support could be essential. With that in mind, the site provides lists of support and funding providers and guides you through the process of bringing on sustainability consultants,” Lockhart-Mummery says.
ICAEW Climate Change Manager Sarah Reay says: “With SMEs comprising the majority of UK businesses and facing the largest challenges with resourcing the transition, it’s great to see the government harnessing the expertise of the Broadway Initiative and other associations to deliver this one-stop shop. Its resources will help SMEs take meaningful steps towards the transition to net zero.
“ICAEW members in small businesses have told us how difficult it is to find accurate and unbiased information on topics such as low-carbon energy options, waste reduction, sustainable procurement and boosting energy efficiency – not to mention finding the capital to fund some of their more costly improvements,” she adds. “This new hub will hopefully cut through that noise, reducing the time it takes owners to research options they can tailor to their businesses and, crucially, listing potential sources of funding.”
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