Have Brexit and COVID-19 delayed UK businesses’ green initiatives?
Unfortunately for some businesses their environment plans have been put on hold, but Atul Bhakta sees change ahead.
It has been encouraging to see businesses embracing environmentally friendly policy increasingly over the last decade.
As environmental issues have grown in prominence on the global stage, businesses have sought to adapt their operations accordingly. Many have conducted thorough audits of wasteful production and supply operations, and embraced positive changes; introducing recycled packaging materials or making green initiatives the focus of the corporate social responsibility policies, for example.
Of course, this mass movement towards green initiatives is not a purely humanitarian endeavour – the data shows it makes good business sense both in today’s marketplace and in the long-term.
After all, a study conducted by Nielsen as early as 2014 highlighted a majority of UK consumers (55%) being content to pay a higher price for products from firms which pledged a 'positive social and environmental impact'.
A more recent study in 2020 found that nearly seven in ten consumers (69%) feel they are doing everything they can do reduce their environmental harms on an individual level.
As businesses adjust to the new global and domestic landscape, the opportunity to consider long-term strategy must now be seized.
Clearly, consumers are now looking to businesses to help them live more sustainable lives with lower impact on the environment – and with the opportunity to invest in upgrading their product offering to a quasi-luxury, firms have followed this trend.
Unfortunately, the unpredictable societal and economic circumstances of the past year have put a hold on these designs.
For one, the Covid-19 crisis has forced most businesses across all sectors to slim down operations, concentrate on core business-critical areas, and reduce overheads – or be forced out of business due to crashing demand and radically altered supply infrastructure.
Concurrently, the nature of the last-minute Brexit deal, agreed just weeks before the final deadline, gave companies precious little time to make practical changes to their operations. As such, companies were forced to dedicate resources to analysing how administrative and customs changes would impact their business.
With such a restrictive and volatile market environment, businesses have understandably paused environmental initiatives. For instance, a firm manufacturing a product dependent on retail placement and a marketing plan constructed around that will have been hugely disrupted by the closure of non-essential retail.
Despite the best intentions of management, such a business would have seen diversifying their offering or translating their supply chain towards eCommerce in the short term as a more worthy use of their resources as opposed to updating their packaging to recyclable materials, for example.
Hope for the future
It is encouraging, then, that we are beginning to see signs of stability and recovery. The UK’s successful vaccine rollout has prompted reports that vaccinated British citizens may soon be able to travel freely between EU counties.
This renewed confidence is reflected in the data; the ONS have reported an 8.6% increase in UK exports to the EU throughout in March 2021. As businesses adjust to the new global and domestic landscape, the opportunity to consider long-term strategy must now be seized.
For instance, with international trade looking increasingly easy to navigate, firms could look to decarbonise their supply chains. Investment in low carbon vehicles and more sustainable shipping and freight arrangements are credible and substantive measures which have recognised long-term cost savings.
Where such major initial investment may be out of reach of smaller firms, those with more ample resources must take the lead.
Through the twin disruptions of 2020, the logistical infrastructure underpinning trade has proven itself capable of scaling at pace to meet radical shifts in demand; broad movements to sustainable freight would allow economies of scale to build around the lower-impact solution, which would in turn afford SMEs the opportunity to invest.
These changes will necessarily be gradual. The investment required will necessitate some firms to engage in risk-taking behaviour to seize the initiative – but the rewards could be ripe for those who make the most authentic change.
Consumers see the value in holistic business sense, and getting ahead of competitors in an uncertain and highly efficient marketplace will be of value in the long-term. Those who can convince potential buyers of the substance of their initiatives will certainly benefit as the debate evolves.
About the author
Atul Bhakta is the CEO of One World Express.
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