By Martin McTague, National Vice Chair, Policy & Advocacy, FSB.
How do you clean a space shuttle’s parachutes? The answer, without blinding you with science, doesn’t involve a packet of washing powder from the corner shop. Instead, NASA came up with some special technology which, it turns out, is now being used for commercial laundry here in the UK.
I mention this not just as an example of the ingenuity in taking something created for one purpose and adapting
it for another, but because this particular technology provides a much greener way to wash large volumes of hotel bedlinen and towels or restaurant tablecloths. It means far less water, electricity and harsh chemicals are used in the cleaning process, which, in turn, saves money.
It has been pioneered in the UK by Laundry Efficiency, a small business in the West Midlands that won the Environmental Award at FSB’s Celebrating Small Business Awards UK Final earlier this year. It strikes me as a brilliant example of how greener ways of working are not just good for the planet, but can also be good for business.
In the run-up to the COP26 international environment summit in Glasgow, we’re hearing a lot in the media about ‘the race to net zero’, but how does that abstract phrase translate practically into a small business?
Some have already embarked upon greener ways of working, but for many small business owners who would like to play their part, it can seem a bit overwhelming in the face of the time pressures and financial costs involved in running a business.
That’s why I think it’s time we looked at this from another perspective – the business case for being more environmentally friendly, and the risks involved in not doing so. All of us have seen the visible impacts of climate change in the news – from flash floods to wildfires. There is a growing demand for products and services that have less of an impact on the environment.
For consumer-facing businesses, there is, at the very least, a brand reputation benefit in being able to demonstrate good environmental credentials. It can also open access to things like the Good Business Charter.
But there is also a fast-accelerating B2B need to do this, too. Big corporates are required by law to report on their annual energy use and greenhouse gas emissions – and they can only really bring these figures down if those in their supply chains are playing their part.
Increasingly we will see bigger businesses shunning smaller firms in their supply chains that are not reducing their carbon footprint, in favour of those that are.
When it comes to the financial costs involved in making changes, it can work both ways. On a basic level, reducing energy use will save money.
However, I accept that other changes involve upfront costs. That’s why there is a strong case for the Government to provide support to help small businesses on their environmental journey – for example a scrappage scheme to help replace diesel or petrol commercial vehicles with electric ones.
Politicians must also get rid of tax disincentives – it’s ridiculous that installing solar panels in your premises will get you clobbered with a bigger business rates bill, for example.
With greater support and motivation in place, I believe small businesses can play a big part in improving the environment. That’s not just essential for saving the planet, but also for sustaining and growing our own businesses.
Martin McTague is National Vice Chair, Policy & Advocacy, FSB.