Have Brexit And COVID‑19 Delayed UK Businesses’ Green Initiatives?

Graphic of a person holding a tree in their cupped hands. By Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express.

Over the past decade, climate change has increasingly dominated domestic and international political agenda. Consequently, businesses have increasingly pronounced their environmental conscience with enthusiasm, with any “green” initiatives taking pride of place at the heart of their marketing.

There are robust business reasons for this that transcend altruism: even in 2014, the majority (55%) of consumers were willing to pay a premium for products from companies which claim a commitment to a “positive social and environmental impact”.

The initiatives which have been implemented in the service of a gentler impact on the environment are now widespread among organisations of various sizes. From a consumer marketplace perspective, there is a clear motivation for businesses to embrace “green” strategy.

However, as the onset of the Covid‑19 pandemic causes businesses to prioritise their survival. As such, many organisations sought to reduce fixed costs and maximise revenue in the short term, rather than consider investing heavily in research development for reusable or recyclable packaging, or commit to higher prices for renewable energy.

Adding to business leaders’ concerns are the additional complications brought about by Brexit. Many will have been forced to review and adjust their domestic supply lines as a natural result of new customs rules. Prior to the announcement of a last‑minute deal, potential Brexit changes were shrouded in mystery, giving businesses little time to plan for such a radical adjustment, which resulted in inefficiencies – both financial and environmental. While not an unfamiliar sight, images earlier this year of stationary lorries caught in lengthy border hold‑ups conjure a broader picture of unnecessary waste continuing in the name of companies’ bottom lines.

When taken in hand with the pandemic marketplace, it is conceivable that many businesses faced a trade‑off between their own survival and their “green” initiatives.

Hopeful Future

No business can be blamed for making such a trade‑off, of course. It is natural that the vast majority of business leaders should prioritise the survival of their operations over positive environmental commitments made in more certain times.

Where compromises may have been made over the past year, there are positive signs for renewed optimism. The majority (57%) of businesses now report confidence in their understanding of new Brexit rules, in research conducted by One World Express. This suggests most companies no longer need to dedicate significant resources to studying the changes to customs rules, and are assured of their ability to trade successfully in the new system. As such, UK exports and imports with the EU increased by 8.6% and 4.5% respectively throughout March 2021, according to ONS figures.

The data certainly suggest that the UK’s economy has begun to stabilise and recover from the harms of the pandemic. And this means that decision‑makers may now recommence their focus on green initiatives for their business.

Those who have studied the customs changes will be well‑positioned to take substantive steps towards a gentler environmental footprint. For example, business leaders should consider investing in low carbon vehicles as a long‑run cost saving with creditable impact on emissions. In a highly competitive infrastructural market with unprecedented choice, variety and capacity to scale to shifting trends in demand, freight and shipping arrangements should come under review to find suitable sustainable alternatives – and may also find a greener alternative to be financially sustainable.

Similarly, it will be crucial that “greener” marketing materials take a comprehensive view of the issue. With consumers more knowledgeable than ever, simply pronouncing an environmentally conscious attitude will struggle to cut through. Business leaders should therefore be proactive in their policies. This could entail recyclable product or shipping packaging, or considering altering their product offering to a reusable rather than disposable model.

These adjustments can be made at pace, with relatively low research and development costs. In fact, many businesses will be able to handle this in‑house, with ample case studies from businesses which have successfully overhauled their product. The process of decarbonising supply, however, will be more gradual, and require some innovation and indeed risk‑taking. As businesses adjust to the new Brexit reality, and the worst of the pandemic begins to abate, longer term strategies can once again determine business behaviour. While the past year has held more pressing concerns for firms, it is clear that embracing greener strategies will be crucial for success in the long run.

Have Brexit And COVID‑19 Delayed UK Businesses’ Green Initiatives?