Economics: Business actions to address climate change

Date : 30 April 2021

ONS surveyed UK businesses in April 2021 in order to examine actions taken or planned to address climate change.

9, 512 businesses of all types were asked to comment on their activities to address climate change, with the following results:

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The survey reveals poor clarity over business policy, with significant numbers of those entrusted to respond to the survey uncertain of either past activities or future intentions.

Where respondents did offer a response, about one-third said that their business had taken none of the actions listed in the survey and an even larger proportion did not expect to take any actions in the year ahead.

The most popular actions appear to be those requiring limited investment, such as changing light bulbs or adjusting heating / cooling. Those requiring more extensive capex were less likely to be undertaken.

This result appears at first sight to be rather disappointing. However, there are several considerations which may lead to a more nuanced interpretation:

  • The actions listed in the ONS survey were necessarily generic, since the sample was very broad – there may be industry-specific actions (eg: waste reduction) which were not covered
  • Capital expenditure by UK businesses has fallen over the last year due to COVID-19, with businesses cautious and management teams distracted – we are seeing interest in combating climate change return as the crisis eases
  • With many employees currently at-home, investment in reducing emissions from some premises may not offer significant climate benefits

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