Gavin Tweedie is in a better position than most to appreciate the benefits that digitisation can offer to a business. In the early 2000s he was one of the architects of the UK television industry’s “digital media revolution”, as major channels including the BBC moved to tapeless production.
That’s why, as Scotland works towards a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2045, the tech entrepreneur is on a mission to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) harness the power of technology.
Stirling-based Tweedie, alongside not-for-profit Scottish Business Network and carbon software company CBN Expert, launched the Scottish Net Zero Community in 2020, in a bid to ensure “no SME gets left behind on the just transition to net zero”.
SMEs, which make up more than 98 per cent of Scotland’s 364,000 companies, are the “engine room of our economy”, Tweedie says. But recent figures show that only four in 10 have taken actions to decarbonise.
This is for various reasons, according to Tweedie, who has worked for technology companies in North America. “SMEs don’t have any full-time sustainability practitioners. They don’t have the expertise in-house. So, we’re targeting that group of people who don’t have the resources and don’t know where to start.”
And there is a “growing demand” on SMEs to record their carbon emissions accurately, he says – something which can only be achieved via carbon accountancy software.
He says: “There’s lots of free calculators on the internet that will give you estimates of your emissions. The trouble is, estimates aren’t recognised by any formal procedures, so you couldn’t estimate how much money you’ve spent this year to the HMRC. You have to be precise.”
The repercussions of inaccurate carbon reporting are serious. Companies who make fraudulent sustainability claims can face fines from the Competition and Markets Authority. Something that “your average business” doesn’t know, says Tweedie.
In addition, public and private tenders are now “demanding carbon transparency”. Recent legislation, known as streamlined energy and carbon reporting, means that companies with over 250 staff or more than £36 million in annual turnover, are required to disclose carbon accounts, including the emissions of their suppliers, in an annual directors’ report.
Tweedie says: “Because bigger businesses today are on the hook for this, it means that they’re
passing that obligation down the supply chain to the SMEs. If you’re a supplier to a larger business today, if you’re not already feeling this pressure, you’ll start to feel it soon.”
To equip small businesses with the technology, skills and guidance they need to implement an effective carbon strategy, the Scottish Net Zero Community, which Tweedie chairs, is running net zero accelerators across the country.
Tweedie says: “Within the net zero accelerator, we’re giving businesses access to carbon accountancy software and the help and the support to create their carbon accounts.” They are provided with a “simple, easy to use carbon measurement, tracking and reporting dashboard” from CBN Expert – as well as access to a network of industry specialists.
Tweedie says: “People don’t know how to work with the data. That’s the hardest piece. So, we bring in partners who provide you with the help and the support so that you’re actually putting in precise information, so that your data is accurate. “And then we bring in an auditor, as part of the accelerator, who looks at your carbon accounts. So basically – you’re declaring things like your energy and your transport right across everything that your business touches. All of that data is captured digitally and keyed into the carbon accountancy software.
“And then a digital report is produced automatically. And that digital report is certified and accredited to the UK Government standard.”
The certificate is a “true and fair reflection of your carbon position” says Tweedie, and opens up a world of benefits to SMEs – including increased efficiency, profitability, and the opportunity to reduce emissions.
Tweedie adds: “What we’re doing is providing that same accreditation cost effectively for SMEs. Bigger businesses can pay £10,000 to £15,000 for this type of analysis.” The Scottish Net Zero Community, which has gathered the support of more than 1,000 members since its inception, is currently running accelerators in central Scotland, Forth Valley and Ayrshire.
But it is just getting started. “Our intention is to run dozens and dozens of accelerators in Scotland, and in fact around the United Kingdom every year,” says Tweedie.
The social enterprise is also in talks with various local authorities and government bodies about how its “real emissions data” for SMEs can be used to inform future policies and carbon strategies.