Learn how South Lakeland District Council's business support initiatives are targeting a green recovery from coronavirus, and help small businesses to cut carbon emissions. Fostering a green economy is one of 50 climate actions for councils, under Action 43, to provide particular support to small and medium-sized enterprises to access funds and expertise, so they can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, contribute to carbon pollution reduction, nature restoration and the growth of the green economy.

23 May 2022

How is Action 43 tackling the climate crisis?

South Lakeland District Council’s business support initiatives are targeting a green recovery from coronavirus. The council is supporting businesses to be part of a growing low carbon economy with three business recovery initiatives:

1. Building on a longstanding relationship with Cumbria Action for Sustainability. This charity delivers a range of services helping businesses improve their carbon literacy including workshops, advice, training, specialist consultancy services, and Cut Your Business Carbon online surgeries.

In 2019, Cumbria Action for Sustainability began supporting the town of Ambleside’s efforts to become a zero-carbon community. Through this work, the charity created its carbon footprint calculator, which calculates a business’s total carbon emissions and gives a detailed breakdown of which areas of operations are the highest emitting.

2. Launching a partnership with consultancy Green Small Business in October 2020. This gave local businesses the chance to get subsidised environmental advice and 12 months of Green Small Business certification. The consultancy audits businesses’ environmental impact and drafts up tailored environmental policies for them.

South Lakeland District Council covers half of the fee companies would ordinarily pay, and a special offer meant the first 20 South Lakeland businesses signing up could register for a £50 rate instead of the ordinary £300 rate.

3. Subsidising the Purposeful Business Start-Up Programme. A course run by local organisation Future Fixers and since 2020, dozens of eco-friendly businesses have graduated from the programme. The programme gives people the skills and knowledge to run a green, ethical enterprise. The council’s backing means the usual £495 fee is cut to £60 for South Lakeland residents (and the course is free for residents receiving unemployment benefits).

What impact has the project had?

Through these initiatives, a diverse collection of businesses across the district are more aware of environmental issues and are taking steps to become more sustainable.

In 2021, Cumbria Action for Sustainability had:

  • Held a business support day in Ambleside for over 20 local businesses and organisations
  • Used its contacts to direct businesses onwards to further support. For example, helping the Levens Village Shop and the Grasmere Victorian House Hotel bid for energy efficiency installations and grants
  • Funded the Solar Made Easy project, through which a trusted solar panel installer will work with small businesses in the South Lakeland area

By autumn 2021, 23 businesses had engaged with Green Small Business. Success stories include:

  • Helping Hart and Jackson & Sons Solicitors address energy efficiency in old Victorian premises. The legal advisors also aim to influence their own clients to work towards Green Small Business accreditation.
  • Engaging with Land and Sky Media, a Kendal-based production company specialising in documentary film, photography and remote location media. Green Small Business worked through issues including travel emissions, and accreditation has given the company greater credibility with its clients.

So far, between 2019 and 2021, 38 businesses have graduated from Future Fixers’ Purposeful Business Start-up Programme.

What made this work?

Joined up approach and linking economy with environment

A key objective of the council’s Climate Change Action Plan is supporting businesses to become low-carbon. Former Council Leader Giles Archibald signed ADEPT’s 5 Priorities for a Green Recovery from Covid-19 and priority two entails support for reskilling, retraining and research to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy. To fulfil these commitments, the council has emphasised the advantages that environmental consciousness and action bring to a business. These include improved viability, profitability, and attraction to customers and clients. Robust political support from a senior level has reinforced this message.

Connection to tourism

South Lakeland is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations, a place where small businesses have flourished because they are part of the character that appeals to visitors. People visit the World Heritage Status landscape to experience nature; if South Lakeland is to preserve this identity, green jobs and businesses have to be part of its future.

In 2021, the UK Prosperity Index found that South Lakeland had the best conditions for enterprise in the country. The council has played a central role in nurturing this reputation.

A good relationship with the community

The council is keen to encourage localism by recognising expertise, empowering and trusting communities and individuals. This was a key factor in developing the partnerships that are now delivering change.

By outsourcing delivery to local organisations the council has avoided a top-down approach, reduced strain on stretched budgets and staff, and guaranteed that on the ground support meets local needs.

By engaging with multiple partners, the authority has produced a comprehensive package of business support with elements that complement, interact with and amplify each other. For the three implementing partners this was a chance to build connections in the area, resulting in an emerging network of low-carbon South Lakeland businesses.

The council’s work at a district level feeds into wider regional grant funding such as the Low Carbon Lake District Grants offered by the Lake District Foundation, which have provided several opportunities to small businesses for green upskilling during the coronavirus recovery. The council’s vision is for this web of organisations to become even more joined up and streamlined.

What resources were needed?

The council funded the package via its dedicated climate action budget, though it did not demand huge expenditure. South Lakeland has demonstrated how a fairly modest council contribution can catalyse a wide-ranging impact.

Cumbria Action for Sustainability

South Lakeland District Council has provided funding since 2014. In 2018, the council committed to a more regular £50,000 every year. In 2020/21 it made a one-off payment of an extra £50,000 (for a total of £100,000).

Green Small Business

The council committed to covering £150 of the standard £300 cost of Green Small Business accreditation for each business. This contribution was agreed on a flexible basis because demand was uncertain prior to rolling out. The council made the business case on the assumption of 10 businesses participating, equalling a council payment of £1,500. In the first year (2019/2020), uptake was slow with only five to six businesses taking part.

The following year, uptake was much higher due to efforts by the council to champion case studies from the previous cohort and increase exposure. Consequently, in 2020/2021, the council’s contribution was around £3,000. Averaged out, the council’s expenditure has been roughly £2,000 per year to support businesses to receive or renew accreditation.

Future Fixers

The council contributes £8,000 a year to run courses every six months, once in spring and once in autumn.

The running of each initiative was delegated to the relevant organisation, making it a relatively hands-free operation for the council. Besides ironing out a business case, very little time input was needed from officers, nor was it difficult for the package of support to receive formal approval.

Lessons from South Lakeland

Recovery from the impacts of coronavirus on businesses must be done in a way that contributes to the low carbon economy so that multiple benefits can be achieved. Supporting SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to go green is a way for local authorities to lead by putting a fairer, greener recovery into practice.

South Lakeland’s experience highlights the importance of promotion. The council publicised the various opportunities across its social media platforms to both its business and resident audiences.

The business arm of the council, Invest in South Lakeland, has a newsletter that goes out to businesses, whereas South Lakeland News newsletter goes out to residents via post – the initiatives were advertised regularly in both. However, the council suggest that more could be done to increase awareness and cross-promotion via word of mouth.

Small businesses are extremely time-pressed and therefore have less time to improve their green credentials. In response, both Green Small Business and Future Fixers emphasise that going green can boost profitability in an age when customers are increasingly valuing ethical business. Communications strategies must focus on this angle to get businesses on board.

“South Lakeland District Council’s support has made a massive difference to what Cumbria Action for Sustainability has been able to do. They have funded us to support both businesses and communities in South Lakeland and have done so over a number of years. We have a very good working relationship with them – both officers and councillors – who are all very committed to achieving their target of net zero by 2037 for the district.”

Molly Hogg, Cumbria Action for Sustainability

“South Lakeland District Council’s support for these projects reflects what we think is the importance of new green businesses in terms of what they’re going to do for our economy, our jobs and our high streets. Green jobs are not going to be a ‘nice to have’, they are going to be the driver of economic renewal.”

Matthew Williams, Senior Specialist for Economy & Culture, South Lakeland District Council.

“Supporting our communities and businesses to become more energy-efficient and environmentally aware is a key priority for South Lakeland District Council and it is important now more than ever for businesses to consider their impact on the planet and people. Businesses taking notice of their environmental impacts and actively managing them is the right thing to do and, indeed, working with the environment in mind can actually enhance a business’s viability, profitability and attraction to customers, clients and partners”

Councillor Dyan Jones, Portfolio Holder for Climate Action and Biodiversity.

Useful information

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Friends of the Earth view

As well as tackling their own emissions councils should encourage and support local businesses, residents and institutions to address climate and nature emergencies. South Lakeland council is doing just that for local small businesses, linking to its aims for a green economic recovery from Covid-19.

To deliver emission cuts across their area councils will need to support and influence a range of partners. For example, councils should also work with schools to tackle emissions in their buildings and catering.

Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing. 

This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

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