Over the last few weeks there have been lots of headlines about the pledge to net zero in the UK, what it means, when the deadlines are and how we might prioritise activities to ensure we get there at all.
The definition of 'net zero', according to the United Nations, is the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions to as near to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.
Why is it important? Again, the UN states, 'The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.'
Despite the debates or 'roll backs' that are currently happening or claims to convince us that racing to net zero too quickly will somehow make things more difficult for everyday living, the science is clear that we all must play a part to encourage, act & espouse the need to achieve the 1.5 degree limit. It is already very clear that our world and its populations are in crisis from droughts, floods & fires with irreversible changes for humans, nature and wildlife.
The trouble is, it's very easy to be paralysed with the enormity of the task in hand. How will we ever afford it, live without things we've always had or manage the sheer transition it seems we'll have to take?
Collective effort is key of course and none more so that the collective effort of micro businesses in the UK. 96% of all private business in the UK is micro, 5.2 million businesses, sole traders and self employed folk who can, and often do, make every effort they can to be more sustainable and play their part to get us to net zero by 2050 at the latest. Often more agile and adaptable than large business, micros may be best placed to lead the way in green business if only they have the right support.
So what support might they need?
It's clear that there's a knowledge gap or possible a fear gap for many. What will their meagre efforts amount to? How can they afford capital investment projects? Where will they find the additional person hours to make the changes needed? Can they call themselves sustainable before they're perfectly green? Do our customers really care enough?
Of course, there are millions who are entirely focussed on being more sustainable in their businesses both to align with brand values as well the values of their customers. Demand is exponentially rising for green business practices, shorter or more transparent supply chains and more circular activities.
How can we amplify the action that's already happening on the ground to truly realise the latent impact that's sitting there ready?
Be a demanding customer
The first thing any little business owner wants to be sure of is that any action or implementation they undertake will be sought after by their customers. They need to understand a clear return on investment and be sure that customers may even pay more for their efforts. A lingering cost of living crisis has further withered the resolve of some that customers will stick to their green principles when times are hard. We need to work with, feed back and have discussion with businesses that we buy from and ask them for their sustainability plans and activities. We can reassure them that we appreciate, nay demand that they keep stepping forward each year to be greener and greener.
Prioritise your spending power
Of course, your pockets won't be endlessly deep, but we can prioritise who gets our money. If you can, start with the biggies like fuel, food & travel. You don't need to change your boiler or buy an electric car to make a difference. Ideas like switching fuel providers or tariffs, limiting your mileage, car sharing or train travel helps. Swopping out the odd meat meal for veggie or choosing which supermarket get your weekly spend based on their sustainable efforts. Try 'Too Good To Go' app to mop up potential food waste or choose to not buy strawberries out of the UK season.
Of course, on top of that we can make a big impact with our smaller spends. Seek out businesses that are as ethical as you want them to be. If they don't share that information, potentially go elsewhere or ask them. Can you do your Christmas gift shopping with a 10 mile radius or perhaps eliminate single use plastic from all your purchasing (including packaging). Better still seek out micro businesses who have sustainability at the heart of their brand. You may not be able to buy as much as you might via Amazon but your impact will be greater.
Share your journey
We're all overwhelmed and busy so making great choices quickly is hard if we need a quick fix. Why not start sharing your best experiences and places to buy, shop or use in your WhatsApp groups of friends and colleagues? Share great tips with your social media communities. Why not have 'Top 5 of the Week' each Friday - fun, interesting and a great way to quickly spread the word about the best practice businesses you find. It's a great way to gain good local knowledge about little businesses (or large!) who are doing great things but also offers great support to those businesses you advocate. We know that your spending power isn't limitless but multiplying your efforts matters.
Your purchasing power is epic and we know that all businesses respond to your demands. But you can also vote in others ways. From politicians to campaigners, from local events to volunteer activities, you can spread the word, offer or withhold your vote, amplify messaging so that it aligns with your sustainable values. Rather like the power of money, we can show those who have influence locally, regionally or even nationally what matters to us and how we want them to use their power for good. For some this might be an actual vote or maybe signing a petition, for others it might be simply sharing a great campaign with family. It all counts.
Educate yourself & others
The world is changing daily, we hear facts and figures that we're not sure are right, accurate or just confusing. We may be so tired we switch off the news all together. However, we can stay tuned and get great new information from trusted sources straight to our inboxes. Choose where your gaps in understanding are and address them where you can. Sign up to a newsletter, become 'Carbon Literate', listen to a TED talk, hang out with your local Wildlife Trust, read a little deeper when a headline leaves you muddled. Listen to your favourite sustainable micro business owners and read about why they're doing what they are so that you can deepen your understanding of different sectors, products and services. You don't need to know it all, but information is power as we all find our way to behave as sustainably as we can.