Net-zero pathways for SMEs

How resilient is your business in the face of climate warming and the global environmental crisis? These pages will help you access the support, resources and funding to get your business on the pathway to net-zero.

Is your business on the road to net-zero? Start your journey here

The cost of energy is soaring, global temperature is rising, and wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms are becoming increasingly frequent and intense due to climate change. The impact is devastating both for the planet, and for business supply chains.

Whilst businesses are undoubtedly impacted by climate change, they are also major contributors to environmental degradation. So regardless of how small your organisation is, your commitment to tackling climate change and contributing to repairing the planet’s ecosystems can make a huge difference. Acting now will not only support your company in becoming more sustainable, it will also help you to prepare for the global challenges that many more businesses will soon face.

The University of Derby has been helping small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) become cleaner, greener and more resilient for years. We know that growing your business whilst being kind to the planet isn’t always easy. Our sustainable research team and Low Carbon Business Network are here to help you set your ambition, develop your plans to reach net-zero and re-generate the environment. As a precursor to any support provided, every eligible firm that signs up to the DE-Carbonise Programme receives a ‘carbon-footprint’ audit of their site, business, products or operations as appropriate.

Picture of a solar panels and wind turbines in a green industrial space

Where are you on the pathway to net zero?

In September 2021, 40% of attendees at our Sustainability Summit had already agreed their net-zero ambition, with 34% declaring their aims publicly. However, whilst 17% had created a plan to deliver net-zero, 53% had not yet agreed one. Only 4% of firms did not plan to set a net-zero target. If you are looking for help to prepare a delivery plan for net-zero, follow the Pathway below.

The net-zero pathway for SMEs

In December 2015, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2°C (above pre-industrial levels) and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. To achieve these aims, businesses of all sizes should aim to halve their greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 and reach net-zero emissions before 2050.

Step 1: Make a pledge

SME Climate Hub is a UK Government based pledge scheme and support for SMEs. Large companies are advised to join Race to Zero via the Climate Pledge

Taking the first step along the journey to net-zero can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it could be easier than you think. There is a wealth of support available from both the University and wider organisations, helping make the process much less daunting. Follow the links below to find out more.

Step 2: Monitoring your environmental performance

A good way to get started is to monitor your environmental performance. There are several tools to help you calculate your firm’s current carbon footprint – first for business operations, then by looking at your supply chain.

  • All SMEs that join the DE-Carbonise programme will be provided with either a site, product or business-wide carbon audit as a benchmark to further support
  • There are several business carbon calculators for both operations and supply chain emissions. BCorp have launched a free Impact calculator for SMEs
  • FutureLearn also provide an excellent free learning module that explains how to measure, reduce and offset you company’s carbon footprint. To ensure targets are credible and stand up to public scrutiny, larger companies should aim to get their net-zero targets validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi)

Further resources

  • The Low Carbon Business Network hosts a library of tools and resources that includes links to carbon calculators for different sectors

  • Keep up to date with all the latest news, events and opportunities on Twitter @CarbonDerby.

Step 3: Assess the risks

It’s also important to assess your risks and plan ahead to reduce the impact of extreme weather events on your business stakeholders and minimise breaks in your supply chain.

The University of Derby has developed the 'Twelve Opportunities' guides to help SME owners and managers navigate a route to decarbonisation by providing a set of tools, resources and inspiration to accelerate their journey towards Net Zero.

  • Opportunity 1: Get carbon savvy
  • Opportunity 2: Energy efficiency 
  • Opportunity 3: Resource efficiency and digitalisation
  • Opportunity 4: From waste to value streams
  • Opportunity 5: Low emission transport
  • Opportunity 6: Greening your supply chain
  • Opportunity 7: Green funding and finance
  • Opportunity 8: Research, development and eco-innovation 
  • Opportunity 9: Green skills of the future
  • Opportunity 10: Environmental accreditation and green marketing
  • Opportunity 11: Sustainable business models and strategy 
  • Opportunity 12: National support and local networks

Access your guidebook

There are several other excellent guidebooks to net-zero for SMEs that you may wish to consider:

Environmental and social value

Alongside the economic benefits of more sustainable business practices, it’s essential to think about the environmental and social value that your business can create. There are some helpful resources to guide you through every step on the path to net-zero.

  • Business Climate Hub provides a comprehensive range of tools for SMEs.
  • Edie explains is a one stop shop for all the latest news for pro-environmental business.
  • Low Carbon Business Network resources library also provides links to several accessible and reliable guides to support your net-zero pathway.

The route to net-zero will be different for every business. Although there are many considerations, there are some great planning tools available to help you.

  • FutureFit Business Benchmark provide a comprehensive framework and accessible video modules that help you take a step-by-step approach to delivering science-based environmental performance
  • BCorp also offers highly regarded route maps for both SMEs and large organisations

In addition to removing greenhouse gas emissions from your operations, you may want to develop your own low carbon products and services. Finding your market niche and engaging your customers are an important part of this process. Developing an environmental strategy and responsible business model are key building blocks for any route planning.

Further resources

  • For a suite of resources exploring green business models check out Nancy Bocken’s website
  • For larger companies, the SDG compass provides guidance on how to align corporate business and environmental strategies whilst monitoring their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

De-carbonising your operations and supply chain can be cost saving in both the short and long term. However, operational, product and service eco-innovation and shifting to sustainable supply chain practices can sometimes require new finance or funding. Clearly, presenting a viable financial plan is critical to securing the funding you may need.  There are a variety of options to help fund your journey to net-zero.

  • The Green Entrepreneurs Small Grant Fund provides grants of £10,000 to £20,000 for new and existing businesses with game changing proposals in alternative energy, clean fuel and carbon reduction.
  • Through the DE-Carbonise programme Derby City Council provides carbon reduction audits, technical support and grants of between £1-20,000 for site carbon reduction measures.
  • The Invest to Grow programme provides grants and loans of between £15-250,000 to support private-sector businesses across the East Midlands to innovate, grow and create jobs.
  • Check out all the latest Funding and Finance news on the LCBN website.

Further resources:

There are all sorts of ways to access funding and finance. The challenge is finding the approach that is right for you.

Every business will need to re-position, re-skill and upskill its workforce as we move to a fully sustainable economy. Some of these skills will be common to all businesses (such as environmental management, sustainable procurement and eco-innovation) and others will be sector and location specific.

Some sectors are much further ahead than others, but there is a growing array of resources to help you build you pro-environmental capabilities. For example:

Whether you want to develop your environmental strategy, de-carbonise your operations, develop a new eco-product, green your supply chain, or enhance your local environment – it’s important to act, no matter how small the step you take. Involving your staff, customers and suppliers is a great way to get the ball moving and keeping it rolling along the way.

Resources to help you take action:

Take the opportunity to think and act ‘beyond the norm’. As a more circular, more environmentally conscious economy emerges, so too will quite radically different ways of living and being.  The rapid rise in home-working recently, prompted by the Covid pandemic, is just one example of a socio-economic trend blurring divisions between social and business constructs.

UKRI have shown that collaborating with research institutions via Innovate UK funding and other collaborative partnerships help SME’s take the necessary action towards net-zero. Look out for opportunities and events hosted by the University of Derby research centres:

Further resources:

There are many examples of exciting new approaches emerging that repair the environment and draw on patterns and processes from nature which could re-energise your business.

Get help, share your lessons and engage with your customers, staff and suppliers. Research shows that there are clear business benefits from collaborating with stakeholders on your green transition. And there’s no need to feel isolated on the journey to net-zero; a growing number of businesses are joining this journey.

In the East Midlands around 4 in 10 firms are supplying low carbon or environmental goods and services. There are several regional and sector groups, plus green business networks that can provide direct support and connect you with other businesses that are dealing with similar challenges (and others who have solved the problems you are facing right now).

Regional support:

In Nottingham there is support from:

National support:

Benchmarking where you start from and gathering evidence of progress along the way is crucial for making good decisions.

Further resources:

And of course, it’s important to celebrate your successes. Putting your business forward for local, regional and national green awards is one great way to build your pro-environmental reputation. You may even want to develop a green marketing strategy.

A small, isolated city, butterflies fly upwards towards the word De-Carbonise

Successful sustainable projects

The DE-Carbonise project helped small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire increase their sustainability and save money by reducing energy costs and carbon emissions.

Find out more about the project Find out more about the project

Find out how we can support you

Complete the enquiry form below to ask about how the University of Derby can help you build your green credentials, develop a green marketing strategy and grow your pro-environmental business on your pathway to net-zero.

* Indicates a required field