By Sam Hampton, Sustainability Consultant
COVID-19 has turned normal business on its head. As SMEs adapt to the new realities of doing business, it could be the perfect time to implement energy saving measures.
The pandemic has affected UK SMEs businesses in the worst way possible. Companies have been unable to trade not because their goods are below par or their competitors are better at customer service, but because their customer base has been largely absent from the high street and industrial estates. As a result, the first priority for most SMEs is to survive this unprecedented period and hope for a quick end to the tumult.
While many organisations in the service sector have been able to move their business online, manufacturing SMEs don’t have that option. The more resilient businesses were forced to think creatively about how to keep their doors open in the new era of normal and have had to re-design the workplace, investing in screens, PPE for employees, one-way systems, sanitary stations and new signage. Some have chosen to consolidate, downsize or even change production lines entirely to meet the new demands of their customers.
Periods of change or disorder are often referred to as ‘windows of opportunity’ and it’s no different in the world of energy efficiency. Under normal business circumstances, making changes to how your business consumes energy can be disruptive as production may be forced to slow or even stop. However, when moving into new premises, or replacing machinery for example, it can be a golden opportunity to think about upgrading lighting, insulation, refrigeration or HVAC systems.
Concern for climate change is growing
COVID-19 has led to wholesale change in everyday routines, in business as well as in individuals’ lives. Recent surveys by the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation have found that as people have reduced travel and waste, and taken up new low-carbon behaviours such as gardening and creative hobbies, public concern for climate change has also increased.
Building on its Clean Growth Strategy, the government set the UK an ambitious target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, becoming the first major economy to pass this into law. It also convened the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change, which reported its findings in September 2020. Providing a total of 50 recommendations for policies, the Climate Assembly also emphasised the crucial role businesses have to play in achieving the net-zero target. 93% of its members agreed that employers “should take steps to encourage lifestyles to change to be more compatible with reaching net zero”.
New government policies and investment
The British public is now more supportive of climate policies than ever before, and the government has responded by investing in cycling infrastructure, and providing grants for domestic energy efficiency measures.
Having created a range of policies for larger businesses over the last decade, the government has also begun to address the challenge of how to support SMEs to reduce their emissions. In 2020, it provided £6 million of funding for a programme called ‘Boosting Access for SMEs to Energy Efficiency’ (BASEE). Smarter Choices UK is one of the projects funded under this scheme, and focuses exclusively on helping manufacturing SMEs to reduce their energy usage.
Funding is available for specialist energy audits, provided free-of-charge to SMEs. Recommendations can include low-cost measures such as sensor-controlled lighting or insulation, or more substantial steps such as upgrading machinery or HVAC systems.
On the basis of tailored recommendations, businesses can achieve guaranteed savings on their energy bills without making any upfront investment. Coming at a time when many SMEs are not in a position to make capital outlays, Smarter Choices has been welcomed by many quarters.
COVID-19: a crisis and an opportunity
The pandemic has been a disaster for many UK SMEs. Businesses have had to stop, take stock and adapt to new trading conditions. But as restrictions have lifted and organisations are able to start getting back on their feet, it could be the perfect time to build back greener and more sustainably.
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 721 5031 to see how Smarter Choices can help you save money and reduce your carbon footprint.
The author, Sam Hampton.
Sam Hampton is a freelance Sustainability Consultant who specialises in helping SMEs to become more energy and resource efficient. With a background in corporate consulting, Sam turned his attention to SMEs as a group of organisations with great potential in the fight against climate change. Having completed a PhD on the role of SMEs in energy transition at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, he is now employed there as a part-time researcher. He is currently working on Energy Superhub Oxford, a major energy innovation project involving a grid-connected battery, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the installation of smart heating systems in social housing.