Skip to content

Many of the UKs 5.6M private sector businesses are Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but they often lack the infrastructure of larger organisations. This can create further challenges in meeting Net Zero targets and understanding of these challenges and the attitudes and knowledge of SMEs toward sustainability challenges and opportunities are currently limited.  The research team in the Centre for Professional and Economic Development used one of the first studies of its kind to address this research gap, with an action case (AC) technique which drew upon a qualitative survey with SMEs alongside a social network analysis (SNA) of Twitter data.

This thought leadership piece highlights their findings and the value of support for SMEs in helping to achieve the Government’s Net Zero targets for 2050.

In times of uncertainty, new agendas can be perceived as burdensome. While some SMEs swiftly adapted and embraced the challenges of Net Zero, others needed time to adapt, learn, and engage. Access and assistance for businesses to adapt to a Net Zero policy have grown increasingly apparent as the intersections between sustainable development goals, national policy change, and globally-led reform have been more prominent as a result of events such as COP. Now it is time to consider how social media contributes to cultural, economic, and societal barriers that hinder SME practises and net-zero ambitions - especially with the major reform on platforms like Twitter.

Based on SMEs' growing volume and interest in Net Zero hashtags, we interpret this as a form of enlightened participation to define a deliberate shift in focus toward relevant topics. Our findings indicate that while interest and concern are growing, there is confusion about what policies and business outcomes are being followed and how engagement with specific hashtag themes may be useful for SMEs. We observed widespread interest in social and climate activism by examining hashtag trends. More broadly, these tweets draw attention to calls for action by businesses to help prevent climate change. Furthermore, these tweets create an incentivised connection to Net Zero change, calling for businesses to initiate change and create action outside the Twitterverse collectively. 

From our broad examination, it appears that social media can provide both a forum for a business community interested in Net Zero and a more public set of conversations to link to policy and commercial responsibility. Twitter allows SMEs to track topic trends and also affords them the ability to make connections to new sources of support and information.

To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to characterise the nature of social media usage and examine the many types of involvement among SMEs concerned with Net Zero and apply an AC approach. The findings indicate the grouping of distinct community clusters and growing patterns associated with 'Net Zero'-tagged financial and economic subjects. In terms of involvement by SMBs, our findings indicate that interest in Net Zero is unevenly dispersed, and the sociopolitical dynamics of nations may provide a reason. In the Global North, there is a greater incidence of social media content about Net Zero, according to the study. Governments in the Global North have better access to and experience with social media and a greater volume of sociopolitical messages on social media (e.g. through official and verified government Twitter accounts).

Practical Implications Forward-looking strategies shared in this paper could support meaningful direction toward recognising SME engagement and linkage in the way they share and bring into operation new Net Zero business practices. The five suggested strategies include 

  1. Creating formal business criteria with an emphasis on supporting SMEs discovering and reviewing the content on social media.
  2. Developing business leaders within organisations with expertise in Net Zero policy to engage in conversations - adapting this to micro-SMEs with appropriate training and open access to Net Zero resources.
  3. Using social media to enhance training and professional development networks with community cluster groups, we have identified representing a variety of business interests and populations.
  4. Connecting with Net Zero education and literacy to explore strategies to advocate for SMEs' ability to innovate, develop, and sustain Net Zero initiatives.
  5. Using AC research to create business engagement systems to meet the demands of SMEs enterprises as a result of significant governmental change and global economic and marketing disruption.

The SMEs who participated in the study responded to questions about dealing with policy change and recommendations to tie in with new national and global agendas. Every participant anticipated a new level of complexity in the shift to Net Zero. The SMEs shared that they continue striving to understand new business approaches and how to find and engage with potential discourse between SMEs, policy advisors, and other commercial entities. Such discussions and practices on social media can be effective in addressing common concerns, demonstrating good practice, and inspiring action to solve climate change. All strategies shared in this paper can be adapted for different SMEs based on assessing the needs of workers, leaders, and customers. The community clusters can assist SMEs in avoiding information silos, including those created by governments and other organisations, and could provide new methods of effective business targeting in green marketing and communication strategies at the level of any organisation. Additionally, the community clusters can be utilised by SMEs to hold various actors accountable for the Net Zero statements they make. In this light, the framework presented here can be viewed as a method for tracking Net Zero participation by SMEs and will be of interest to researchers, businesses, policymakers, and customers. 

Our data indicates that certain cluster communities may function as echo chambers or deliberately restrict conversations to promote financial products. As was the case with the #NetZero, hostile actors can damage the validity of the content. This study also shows that the #NetZero forms part of wider narratives about climate change and transformation for global industry and world economic markets. Future research could expand a flexible collection of strategies and tools to support the accumulation of diverse social media experiences from various sources. Given the importance of data integrity in hashtag trends on social media platforms such as Twitter, this subject deserves serious and urgent investigation.

The full Journal Paper can be read at:

If you would like to know more about our research in this area, or our knowledge transfer partnerships please email

Share this content