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Business survey: only a third of small Kiwi businesses prioritising climate action

Even though small businesses know there are benefits to taking climate action, only 36% are making it a priority. That’s the main finding in a survey of small and medium companies in Aotearoa New Zealand, conducted by the Sustainable Business Network (SBN).

SBN’s report, Climate action in Aotearoa New Zealand SMEs – current trends, drivers and barriers, is based on insights gathered from interviews with 22 organisations as well as research and expert insights.

All interviewees were aware that taking action on climate could bring business benefits. However, they are being held back by lack of time, cost concerns and difficulty finding relevant information.

Lack of time is the main barrier, cited by 82% of interviewees. This is followed by perception of cost (59%) and lack of information (55%).

Lead author Kimberley Savill, Programme Manager – Climate at SBN, says economic concerns and a short-term survival mentality have risen to the fore in recent years.

“Four years ago, our research showed that lack of time and knowledge were the main barriers to climate action for SMEs. These have now been joined by financial challenges,” she says.

“At the same time, the businesses we spoke to said the strongest motivation for them to act on climate was financial. 73% said the potential to grow profits was very strongly motivating and 68% identified savings in operational costs as a strong motivator. These motivations were followed by meeting market demand and ‘doing the right thing’.”

According to the research, businesses that are taking climate action are mainly focused on easy wins. Typically, this includes waste management and reduction. Other common actions include travel improvements and energy reduction.

“It’s vital that we find ways to enable small businesses to take climate action,” says Kimberley.

“As a nation, we have committed to halving our emissions by 2030. Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy is largely driven by SMEs. Together, they contribute more than a quarter of our GDP and their impact on emissions is likely of a similar magnitude.

“It’s likely there’ll be increasing pressure on SMEs, as new climate-related disclosure requirements and supplier reporting expectations ramp up. As a result, there’ll be increasing scrutiny by corporates and the financial sector of the smaller businesses in their supply chains.

“The businesses we spoke to told us they need better tools, training and financial support to take climate action. In particular they value simplicity. They prefer information to be specific and relevant to their business, with relatable case studies and examples. They also need sustainability-focused loans, funds and grants.”

Big businesses, government and supporting organisations, such as councils, economic development agencies and industry associations, have a vital role to play. They can help by connecting SMEs with information and training, improving digital tools, and offering financial support.

The businesses interviewed for this survey came from a variety of sectors including retail, tourism, technology, food and beverage, law, property, advertising and local government. The interviews took place in November 2023.

Download Climate action in Aotearoa New Zealand SMEs – current trends, drivers and barriers.