UK Startups: A Mixed Bag on Net Zero and Responsible AI

  • UK startups show a notable increase in measuring their carbon footprint, with 28% now doing so.
  • 8% of startups have implemented net zero policies, up from 5% in 2022.
  • 41% of startups lack female representation on their boards, highlighting gender diversity challenges.
  • European startups outperform UK counterparts in carbon footprint measurement and responsible AI adoption.
  • UK startups excel in diversity initiatives and data security measures.
  • Healthtech and biotech startups lead in gender diversity, while SaaS startups lag behind.
  • The research provides valuable benchmarks for evaluating ESG performance in the startup ecosystem.

Main AI News:

The latest data from ESG_VC reveals a shift among UK startups towards measuring their carbon footprint, with a notable increase from 16 to 28 percent. This data, gathered from 587 startups backed by prominent venture capital firms, underscores a growing awareness of environmental impact among entrepreneurial ventures. Notably, 8 percent of these startups have already implemented net zero policies, a marked improvement from just 5 percent in 2022. Furthermore, 17 percent of surveyed startups plan to set net zero targets in 2024, reflecting a broader trend towards sustainability within the startup ecosystem.

However, while strides are being made in environmental responsibility, challenges persist in areas such as gender diversity and responsible AI adoption. A concerning 41 percent of startups surveyed lack female representation on their boards, and the proportion of companies without women in senior management roles has risen to 20 percent from 15 percent in 2022. This underscores the ongoing need for greater gender parity within leadership positions.

In terms of talent acquisition and development, startups are ramping up efforts to attract and retain skilled professionals amidst budget constraints and fierce competition. Fifty-seven percent of startups now provide study support to employees, a significant increase from 40 percent in the previous year. Additionally, nearly half offer internship, apprenticeship, or trainee programs, reflecting a commitment to nurturing talent from diverse backgrounds.

Comparing regional performance, European startups are outpacing their UK counterparts in both carbon footprint measurement and responsible AI adoption. Thirty-five percent of European startups measure their carbon footprint, compared to 24 percent in the UK, highlighting a greater emphasis on sustainability practices. Similarly, 34 percent of European startups provide staff training or codes of conduct on responsible AI, compared to 30 percent of UK startups, indicating a more proactive approach to ethical AI usage.

Conversely, UK startups excel in areas such as diversity and data security. Forty-five percent of UK startups offer equality, diversity, and inclusion training, surpassing the 25 percent of European companies that provide similar initiatives. Moreover, a significant majority of UK startups (70 percent) have processes in place to comply with data regulation, compared to 57 percent in Europe, demonstrating a strong commitment to data security and privacy.

In examining diversity across tech sectors, healthtech and biotech startups emerge as leaders in gender representation, with only 26 percent lacking female board members. In contrast, SaaS startups face greater challenges, with 45 percent failing to appoint women to their boards. However, SaaS companies are ahead in offering training or codes of conduct on responsible AI, with 37 percent prioritizing this initiative compared to other sectors.

As this research enters its third year, it continues to provide valuable insights into the ESG landscape within the startup community. Conducted in partnership with the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA) and Marriott Harrison, this analysis offers standardized metrics for evaluating environmental, social, and governance performance. By benchmarking performance across sectors and regions, it serves as a roadmap for startups striving to navigate the complexities of responsible business practices in today’s competitive landscape.


The data highlights both progress and persistent challenges within the UK startup ecosystem. While there’s commendable advancement in sustainability efforts and talent development, gender diversity and responsible AI adoption require more attention. European startups’ leadership in certain areas underscores the need for UK startups to benchmark and adopt best practices. Overall, prioritizing sustainability, diversity, and ethical AI will be crucial for startups to thrive in a competitive market while meeting evolving stakeholder expectations.