When it comes to engaging residents in climate action, small businesses – or SMEs – are a great partner for local authorities. They are at the heart of their neighbourhoods, with huge potential to influence their customers, staff and suppliers.
More than ever, they see the value in supporting green projects and initiatives. An E.ON survey of small businesses suggested more than three quarters think they can have a stronger appeal to their customers by boosting their environmental credentials.
SMEs are also keen to support their local community. Research by the Federation of Small Business found 80% of its members had contributed to their local community or a local charity in the last three years.
But SMEs face many of the same challenges as councils when it comes to going green (and helping others do the same) – limited time and resources, and sometimes a lack of knowledge or experience. But strong partnership working can help overcome these barriers and create benefits for authorities, local firms and residents.
Inspiration from North London
One organisation pioneering this work is Camden Think & Do. This council-backed non-profit company runs community spaces in the London borough, where people come together to tackle the climate crisis. Its vision of a ‘community ecosystem’ includes an important role for small businesses – supporting this, the non-profit has unlocked volunteer time, donations of materials and resources, and more than £24,000 of funding from local SMEs .
The Climate Connectors scheme allows SMEs to supply volunteers for green projects with schools and community groups. Businesses help fund work including a local energy savers club and ‘Green Dragon’s Den’ competition in Camden schools.
Through the ‘Sharing Space Eats’ initiative, businesses can buy local vegetarian catering for their events. Koko, a Camden music venue, has been instrumental in the Camden Forest project – planting trees across the borough’s estates, and employing local young people to care for them.
Advice for councils
Camden Council and other authorities taking part in Ashden’s London regional learning hub have shared for working with small businesses to create climate action. One key insight is the value of having a dedicated network bringing businesses and others in the community together – in Camden, it’s the Camden Climate Alliance.
Engaging schools, tackling litter and planting trees are all popular choices for businesses wanting to support green schemes. But it’s important to ask the community what it wants and then find SMEs who can support that goal, rather than the other way round.
Building a database of interested local companies is a great foundation. Once a business has engaged with you on one green issue, its likely to engage on others. You could support SMEs to engage with local colleges, upskilling tutors on sustainability issues or promoting green jobs at career fairs.
Networking events are hugely popular with small businesses. Setting these up in community spaces – and with community catering – can bring SMEs and climate-focused groups together.
Finally, council procurement is a great opportunity to help green your local economy – which will lower emissions but also shift knowledge and behaviour. Try and work with local suppliers, and try to ensure the goods and services you buy are as sustainable as possible.
Businesses of every size are motivated to support climate action. With your help, they can play a major role in creating greener communities around the UK.
- Do you know local SMEs wanting support to become more sustainable? Check out our resources and advice.