5 key takeaways for small businesses from climate experts

QuickBooks is committed to leveraging our platform to connect small business owners with experts, advisors, and resources that can help you successfully manage and grow your business. With COP26, the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, just around the corner, we sat down with climate champions from the US and UK to discuss what small businesses can do right now to combat climate change.

Andrew Griffith is currently the UK’s Net Zero Business Champion, a role he was appointed to by the Prime Minister. Griffith’s serves to support UK businesses of all sizes to make credible plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier and to provide global leadership in tackling climate change.

Senator Ed Markey is a US leader on energy, the environment, and climate change. He has authored legislation that addresses the energy, economic, and national security challenges associated with increasing carbon pollution. He co-sponsored the landmark Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act, the only comprehensive climate change bill ever to pass a chamber of Congress. In February 2019, Senator Markey co-sponsored the Green New Deal, a resolution to address the existential challenge of climate change.

Together, these climate champions shared practical, positive steps small business owners can take to make a lasting impact on the environment. Here’s what we learned:

1. Small businesses make a big difference

“Running a small business is one of the hardest things,” said Griffith. And he would know. Griffith spent 27 years working in business before deciding to dedicate himself to public service, giving him an unique perspective of the challenges small businesses face in their sustainability journey. “You want to be a good steward of the Earth’s resources,” Griffith said. But many small business owners might not know where to start or feel that their business alone couldn’t possibly make a difference.

But small business actually plays a significant role in climate action. “Because there’s so many [small businesses], small, simple steps—often things that can save money or save time—can really compound up to make a big difference,” Griffith said. As Markey points out, small businesses represent 90% of businesses around the world, and 50% of employment globally. Together, small businesses can make a big difference.

“In a few weeks time, the United Kingdom is hosting the UN climate summit…and representatives of every country on the planet are going to come together and make their pledges,” Griffith said. “But when the world leaders have come and gone… the people who are going to make a difference are the business leaders in every community, in every nation.”

His best advice for these business leaders? Do something. “Start somewhere. Don’t do nothing. Do something. That’s how change happens.”

2. We can’t afford not to invest in climate solutions

Senator Markey’s message was clear. It’s never been more urgent to take climate action. “The climate crisis isn’t just at our door,” he said, “It’s already in our homes.”

He argues that the need for climate action simply can’t be ignored any longer. Recent flooding on the east coast, catastrophic hurricanes in the south, and rampant wildfires across the west coast all stand as proof that the time for climate action is now. “Lives have been lost, homes have been destroyed, and families broken apart because of extreme weather fueled by human-caused climate change here in the United States,” said Markey. In 2020 alone, the US experienced 22 extreme weather events, costing $95 billion in damages.

However, according to the United Nations, transitioning to a green economy could yield an economic gain of $26 trillion dollars globally, compared with business as usual. Creating more than 6.5 million clean energy jobs.

“When critics question if we can afford to invest in bold climate solutions, the answer seems obvious,” said Markey. “Can we afford not to invest?”

3. Climate resilience is essential for business success

“Resilience in the face of climate chaos is make or break for businesses,” said Markey. But how can small businesses be more resilient?

Markey goes on to explain that large companies often expect their suppliers–in many cases, small businesses–to demonstrate climate readiness and proactivity in addressing climate risk. This means taking clear actions to cut carbon emissions and achieve net neutrality. In doing so, small and medium enterprises protect both their reputation and their long-term business certainty.

But Markey knows that achieving climate resilience is easier said than done for many small businesses that lack funding to make climate positive changes. “I’m fighting for policies that will help businesses take these critically important actions,” he said.

One such policy is the federally proposed Clean Energy Accelerator, a publicly funded national climate bank that will provide funding to small and medium sized businesses interested in addressing their carbon footprint. The funding will serve to finance clean energy technology across the country.

But the success of this plan rests squarely on the shoulders of small business owners. “The future of your business and our plan depends on your willingness to rise to the challenge of addressing the climate crisis. We’re counting on you,” said Markey. “It saves all creation—and small and medium-sized businesses are going to be at the center of that economic revolution.”

4. Stories have power to create change

Studies show that the majority of consumers (73%) are willing to change their consumption habits to lessen their negative impact on the environment. Another 81% say they’re more likely to trust and support brands that “do what is right.” In other words, today’s consumers care about the planet–and they want the businesses they support to care too.

So, how do you get the word out to your customers that your business supports sustainability? Griffith recommends telling them a good story. “People love stories,” he said. “We’re all on a journey…a big, bold, revolutionary journey,” and there’s no better story to tell.

He recommends sharing your sustainability story however you communicate with customers. Whether that’s by email, through a social media post, or even while they’re standing at the register. “Make sure there’s a sustainability button on your website,” he said.

The host of the livestream, Cassie Divine, is living proof that small business storytelling works. “All the jewelry I’m wearing is from a local shop in my San Francisco neighborhood,” she said. “The small business owner told me about his commitment to local artisans, manufacturers, and supply chains that are not only good for the environment, but good for his business.” She was sold.

5. Small steps accomplish big goals

Griffith will be the first to admit that the UK has set some really ambitious goals. At the COP26 summit, the world will agree to some really ambitious goals. But these goals aren’t a moonshot, as Griffith puts it. “We don’t need to solve scientific problems that have not already been solved,” he said. The technology to meet these goals already exists, it’s up to business owners to adopt these clean technologies quickly.

“If you’re a small business, that can be as simple as switching your energy provider to one who is entirely renewable,” Griffith said. “A lot of the other things you can do are just as simple— turning off the lights at night or remembering to turn off your computer at the end of the day so it doesn’t just sit there overnight, burning energy.”

It’s these small, simple changes that will truly make a difference as we work to save a planet in peril. This November, COP26 will mobilize millions of businesses around the world to make those climate positive changes and take action.

Small business owners wanting to learn more can get a head start by visiting the SME climate hub and signing the commitment to take climate action. In the meantime, check out more of our resources to find out how your business can save energy, save water, and become a sustainability champion.

Missed the livestream? Watch it now on demand.

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