Last week I was delighted to host an event for our Step Up to Net Zero (SU2NZ) participants at the SWG3 Studio Warehouse in Finnieston. It was an opportunity for those on the programme to come together and take part in peer-to-peer learning about the opportunities for businesses as they make vital progress in their sustainability credentials.

For those perhaps not aware, SU2NZ is an all-age paid placement scheme fully funded by Glasgow City Council through its Glasgow Green Deal Business Support work and delivered by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. It’s a really practical hands-on programme which we are piloting and matches up mainly SME businesses with a four-month work placement who will help the business outline and take short, medium and long-term actions towards their net zero goals.

Each participating business went through a rigorous selection process to ensure that culturally there was a full commitment made at the outset from senior leadership to support the process and realise the recommendations made within their action plan.

Read more: Glasgow leading the way in net zero drive

More than 570 applicants were received for the initial 40 roles available, which is a good indicator that not only is this a growth area but demonstrates the amount of talent and appetite we have here in Glasgow to engage in this very important agenda. Each placement has full wrap-round support from experts in the field of net zero transition and circular economy to ensure that the best tailored approach is developed for each business.

It is a win-win scheme for all parties. For businesses, it provides additional resources to help them tackle what can be a very logistically and strategically challenging area. It also creates an employment opportunity which is especially important for people either entering, re-entering or changing industry, within the workplace.

We brought together representatives from the 39 companies who are participating along with the employees themselves to exchange ideas on the progress made so far and support one another in the challenges still being faced. Delegates heard about the importance of core values in a business and the role staff can play in supporting the business’ transition as highlighted by Seonaid Daly, Executive Director of Glasgow Film. Embedding carbon literacy in job specifications was just one simple technique cited and having this aligned to understanding the financial impact and value generated by any investment or change in business model is key. According to Lucy Lake, Director of People & Purpose from sport events broadcasting company QTV, committing resource to generate and report data was also an important factor in the creation of sustainable growth prospect feasibility documents to present to prospective investors.

So far six participants have finished their SU2NZ contract period and completed over 50 (87%) of agreed short term actions within these businesses so far. Of these, Kabloom, WEEE Scotland and Dear Green Coffee have now committed to retaining their placements to continue delivering the medium- and long-term actions which have been identified for them. Alongside a supporting resource, there was a general sentiment shared in the room that it was giving businesses confidence and indeed the evidence to take the right actions.

Businesses which have strong sustainable track records have lower operating costs, can gain a competitive market edge and secure new revenue streams, ultimately generating higher profit. It’s about change for good and it’s good for business.

Access to finance to help with net zero strategies will continually be a challenge for firms but there is a huge range of opportunities for those who can take that leap and dedicate time and resources to it now and for many SMEs there will be significant opportunities to develop innovative solutions to emerging challenges as well as cause disruption in the market place.

Business-to-business learning will be absolutely critical as we progress towards net zero. Different paths will be taken in addressing emissions but hearing from companies of different sizes and from across a range of sectors will undoubtedly inspire and scale action.

Alison McRae is Senior Director, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce