- NatWest’s Sustainable Business Tracker signals that many UK businesses plan to train their staff in energy efficiency during the next year
- Gloomy economic outlook is resulting in lower overall action on sustainability
- SMEs report a faster downturn in business activity in September as energy crisis hits customer demand
Boosting staff skills in sustainability is set to increase among UK SMEs, with energy efficiency by far the most popular specialism businesses are interested in. This is followed by training in government regulation and sustainable supply chains.
Over half of SMEs (53%) have either started training staff in energy efficiency or plan to do so in the next year, which places the issue at the top of the table for sustainability skills. SME manufacturers (66%) were more likely to report training staff in energy efficiency than service providers (50%).
Andrew Harrison, Head of Business Banking at NatWest Group, said:
“Energy costs are a huge issue for businesses, as well as households, and it’s clear that SMEs are prioritising skills that will help them establish more energy efficient practices and help futureproof their business across energy price volatility in the longer term. It’s great news for companies, employees and the environment that businesses are becoming more committed to boosting green skills.
“NatWest’s Springboard to Sustainability report found that 50% of the UK’s carbon reduction ambition can be delivered by the SME sector. This could also unlock a £160 billion opportunity for them. Sustainability, recovery and growth go hand-in-hand and SMEs need to be supported to know how to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. At NatWest we are doing our best to support them.”
Businesses said that escalating utility bills had increased the need to save energy and prompted staff training to help employees reduce usage. There were also reports of staff training being aimed at reducing energy consumption when designing new products.
Large companies also placed energy efficiency as the most sought after type of skill, with 78% looking to pursue training, followed by sustainable supply chains (65%).
Overall, worries about the business outlook contributed to a fall in the prioritisation of sustainability action among UK firms with 1-249 employees. The headline NatWest Sustainability PMI dropped from 43% in June to 39% in September, which signalled the lowest prioritisation since the survey began in February 2020. The reduction was driven by service providers, whereas intentions among manufacturing companies improved slightly in September.
However, sustainable product launches picked up since June, with 25% of UK SMEs reporting this as a high priority during the year ahead (up from 19%). Action on supply chain sustainability was unchanged, with 30% of SMEs still citing this as a high priority.
In contrast to the trend seen for SMEs, large firms upgraded their low carbon energy consumption plans. Some 76% of large firms cited this as a high priority, up from 73% in June and a survey-record high.
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