Carbon Jargon Stops Environmental Action

A mixed race woman at a desk

The majority of smaller businesses in the UK don’t understand how common environmental terms such as ‘net zero’, ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘carbon footprint’ apply to their businesses, according to new research commissioned by the British Business Bank.

The Opinium survey of 1,000 decision makers in smaller businesses found more than half (54%) believe the language, terminology and information around carbon emissions reduction are overcomplex.

Over three in five (61%) say they would find more information and advice about taking action to measure and reduce their business’ carbon emissions helpful, with over half (53%) of those wanting advice on measuring their business’ carbon footprint and a similar proportion (51%) wanting information to help work out if reducing carbon emissions makes financial sense for them.


Lack of information

Nearly half (44%) of those surveyed don’t know where to get information on reducing their carbon emissions and how best to approach related commercial or financial opportunities.




The British Business Bank’s #GreenToGrow campaign aims to demystify and alert smaller businesses to the commercial benefits of investing in decarbonisation. Resources include a new ‘Green Decoder’ to help smaller businesses decipher the terminology surrounding decarbonisation. The British Business Bank’s online Finance Hub also provides a series of guides and information about sustainability issues and how smaller businesses can start their journey towards net zero.

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Carbon jargon terms misunderstood by businesses include:

Greenhouse gas emissions: 87% of businesses did not have a full understanding of the term and what it meant for their business.

Decarbonisation: 78%.

Net zero: 74%.

Carbon neutral: 69%.

Carbon footprint: 59%


 “Smaller businesses are far too often put off by the overcomplex ‘carbon jargon’ that comes with reducing emissions. By helping decipher some of the terminology around decarbonisation the British Business Bank hopes to show smaller businesses that simple, incremental changes, such as switching off equipment when not in use, can make a difference in their net zero transition.”

– Shanika Amarasekara 

Chief impact officer, British Business Bank


Business benefit

“This will become an increasingly important businesses requirement. Given that many consumers now consider sustainability when they make a purchase, by becoming greener, smaller businesses can enhance their competitive edge and expand their customer base,” adds Amarasekara. “Our new mission at the Bank is to continue to drive sustainable growth across the UK and to enable the transition to a net zero economy, by improving access to finance for smaller businesses. This new #GreenToGrow campaign will help more businesses find the information they need to move toward transition.”



The British Business Bank’s Smaller Businesses And The Transition To Net Zero report, published in October 2021, found that smaller businesses account for around half (50%) of total emissions from UK businesses. Nearly half (45%) believe, however, that a reduction in their carbon emissions will not make a significant difference to the environment and almost three in four (72%) believe large corporations are responsible for most of the business carbon emissions in the UK.


Finance as an enabler to net zero transition

Only one in twenty (5%) smaller businesses say reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impact is their number one priority for 2022. The Smaller Businesses And The Transition To Net Zero report also found that more than a third (35%)2 cited costs as a barrier for reducing their carbon emissions, particularly upfront capital costs (21%)2.

So far, 11% of the smaller business population – equating to around 700,000 businesses in the UK – have accessed external finance, in the form of loans or equity, to support ‘net zero’ actions, with 22%2 – equivalent to around 1.3 million businesses – saying they are prepared to access external finance to support ‘net zero’ actions in the next five years.

Picture: Small businesses are too busy to get to grips with carbon jargon and don't believe their efforts will achieve much.

Article written by Cathryn Ellis
08th April 2022


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