Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) account for 99% of the 4.9 million businesses in the UK and represent 59% of private employment. When it comes to the challenges of sustainability however, their individual impact is relatively insignificant and as such the focus of sustainability falls on large, often global firms that can have significant individual impact. Collectively, SMEs environmental, social and economic impact is considerable; they therefore have incredible potential to address the issues of sustainability in the modern world, if their response to such challenges can be collective, coordinated and coherent. Currently this is not the case with SMEs tackling sustainability in a sporadic and highly variable manner. The reasons for this response range from a lack of expertise or understanding, limited time and resources, a feeling of futility for the apparent limited impact they can have on these issues to finally, the perception of cost.
The UK micro brewing industry is currently moving through a huge growth phase. Estimates of market share range from 0.5 to 1.9% with expected growth predicted to follow the trend of micro brewing in the United States, which currently accounts for approximately 8% of the market. Such rapid growth offers a valuable example of an industry dominated by SMEs, which has the opportunity to embed sustainability at the core of the industry such that sustainability principles may govern and promote progress and growth rather being seen as hindrances stifling creativity and creating cost. Thornbridge brewery in the heart of the Peak National Park is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic of the increasing number of UK microbreweries. A recent winner of the BBC’s Food and Farming Award 2014 for Best Drinks Producer, it has plans to double production in the coming 12 months. With their core values of “Passion, Innovation and Knowledge” and CEO Jim Harrison’s background in manufacturing engineering, they are a prime candidate to investigate how an expanding SME can incorporate sustainability into their business.
Thornbridge currently spend in the region of £127,000 per year on the essential utilities; gas, water and electricity, with rising costs for wastewater, spent grain and waste yeast. Whilst they are cognisant of sustainability issues, and in particular where sustainability solutions can offer financial benefits, like much of their industry, and SMEs as a whole, time and budget restraints restrict their ability to implement such measures.
As a small, local business in an environmentally sensitive area such as the Peak District National Park, Thornbridge plays an active role in the community whilst striving to maintain an environmentally responsible profile. This study aims to harness this enthusiasm, identifying real sustainability opportunities, which provide both financial benefit and contribute to the local community and environment. It will also consider effective strategies and mechanisms to encourage SMEs to implement sustainable programmes and green technology, through the roles of industry networks and government incentives, both within the Peak National Park and on a national scale. It is hoped that these lessons can be applied to other often-‐fragmented industries with high proportions of SMEs, so business and SMEs in particular can realise their potential in meeting the sustainability challenge