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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

22 February 2023 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), supported by Intuit and the We Mean Business Coalition (WMBC), spoke to 15 SMEs who have taken steps to decarbonise their business to share insight on the path to Net Zero for small and medium enterprises.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have a crucial role in achieving net zero targets, but knowing where to start and how to succeed isn’t always clear. We spoke to 15 SMEs already working towards decarbonising their businesses to find out about the challenges they have faced, mistakes they’ve made, how they’ve overcome adversity and what they have learned on the path toward net zero. In this publication, we’ve outlined the common threads linking their journeys to create a series of actionable steps SMEs can take. This is followed by 15 case studies, sharing an in-depth insight into each business’s decarbonisation journey.

 how SMEs can lead the way​

Download the case studies in this mobile-friendly format

Six steps to start your net zero journey

  1. Embed sustainability into your business strategy: By considering people and the planet in every strategic decision you make, you can begin to embed decarbonisation, sustainability and inclusivity into your operations

  2. Measure your impact: It’s impossible to measure progress without knowing where you began, so, to have a clear picture of your impact, you need to track your data, starting as early as possible

  3. Build strong relationships with your suppliers: By implementing a sustainable resourcing policy, supporting your providers, and earning their trust, you can keep track of supply chain emissions and help your suppliers to improve their practices.

  4. Get people on board: Creating a shared culture of responsibility, both internally and throughout the supply chain, will help motivate your colleagues and associates to play their part.

  5. Redefine value: While the traditional business model values profit above all else, SMEs working towards decarbonisation need to recognise additional markers of success.

  6. Leading the change: The level of disruption we currently face offers an unparalleled opportunity to reimagine and rebuild our future - one that goes beyond achieving net zero to laying the foundations for a more resilient, equitable and sustainable world.

SME case studies

The report also includes detailed case studies from 15 startups and SMEs, sharing their experiences of embedding sustainability within their business. Featured case studies include:

  • Dr Justin Ma, Orange Power
  • Debbie Luffman, Finisterre
  • Agnes Czako, Airex
  • Kitty Liao, Ideabatic
  • Arabella Turek, Petit Pli
  • Kavita Parmar, Gunakazi
  • Ayça Dündar, Solublue
  • Thaslima Begum, Teek Taka
  • Jim Ajioka and Orr Yarkoni, Colorifix
  • ElsaMarie D’Silva, Safecity
  • Tom de Wilton and Michelle Urvall-Ashraf, Oxwash
  • Ann Runnel, Reverse Resources
  • Darcy Shiber-Knowles and Gero Leson, Dr Bronner’s
  • Duncan Catchpole, Cambridge Organic Food Company
  • Damian Tow, Brighton Energy Cooperative

Citing this report.

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2022). The path to net zero: how small and medium enterprises can lead the way. Cambridge: The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Find out how to embed sustainability in your SME with our two-day sustainability essentials programme.

Find out more about the Canopy, CISL’s global community and Cambridge workspace for impact driven startups.

Authors and acknowledgements

With thanks to the individuals who participated in interviews to share their business insight for this project: Dr Justin Ma; Debbie Luffman; Agnes Czako; Kitty Liao; Arabella Turek; Kavita Parmar; Ayça Dündar; Thaslima Begum; Jim Ajioka; Orr Yarkoni; ElsaMarie D’Silva; Tom de Wilton; Michelle Urvall-Ashraf; Ann Runnel; Darcy Shiber-Knowles; Gero Leson; Duncan Catchpole and Damian Tow. The CISL project team were Eithne George, Zoë Loughlin and Claire Wang, with thanks to Annabel Ross and Adele Williams for their comments and suggestions. Thanks also to Liz Naven (Fugu PR Ltd) and Retts Wood for copywriting and editorial support.


Copyright © 2023 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved. The material featured in this publication is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.