A Business Guide to Going Green
We look at why you should assess your business’ impact on the environment and the steps you can take to lessen it...
Everyone worries about the environment, but these worries are often forgotten when it comes to running a business. Many companies avoid being green due to fears about cost – yet failing to follow legislation can end up costing you a whole lot more.
It’s imperative that you find out what legislation there is, and how it affects your firm. But being green doesn’t just have to be a method of damage limitation – it can reduce your costs and give you a considerable edge over the competition.
The guide covers why environmental concerns are your concerns, how to devise a plan for addressing them, and what actions you can take to ease your impact on the environment.
Why bother being a green business?
Our understanding of the impact that business operations have on the environment has grown massively in the past few years. Changes in legislation reflect this, for instance, environmental legislation has increased substantially and ignoring the law can carry grave penalties – both financial and criminal – and can damage your company’s image. By planning, you can minimise the cost of changing your equipment and work practices.
Modifying your business equipment/practices to be more environmentally friendly doesn’t necessarily have to cost you. Environmental management can bring savings; for instance, raw materials, transport, waste disposal and energy could all be saved upon.
Another reason to consider going green is that it’s good for your image, and many customers prefer to use green businesses. If you can boast about your environmental credentials, it could give you the edge over your competitors. Customers are also willing to pay more for green products/services so an environmentally conscious company can make the most of these premiums.
And it’s not just customers that care about how green you are, larger companies are ‘greening’ their supply chain. Many choose only those that satisfy strict environmental criteria – if you don’t go green, you could miss out.
Business partners also care about green profiles. Banks, insurers and investors can avoid companies who do not properly manage their environmental affairs. And employees can prioritise green issues so being green can make it easier to recruit people, and motivate those within the company.
Finally, interest groups can hold companies to account. The local community and pressure groups can be brought into conflict with you if you ignore environmental issues.
How can I establish what environmental issues affect my business?
You can conduct an environmental review. This is an assessment of how your company impacts upon the environment and, in turn, how this impact affects your business. It can be carried out by you alone, with the help of local organisations (local business support organisations, colleges and universities), or an external adviser. There are five main areas you should cover in your review.
The first is your impact on the environment. This should include your raw materials (manufactured and sourced), energy usage, waste, emissions/discharges, storage and movement and materials, and your handling of prior incidents and your business investments and pensions.
Next up are the risks you pose to the environment. His should cover the likelihood of an accident, the potential damage of an accident, the environmental sensitivity of your area and the risks your business partners pose.
The third section of your review should comprise of the rules and regulations that affect you, which should cover governmental policies/legislation currently in place, as well as governmental policies and laws in development. Your environmental review should also include the groups involves in your business who might be affected by your environmental impact and policies. You should consider the interests of our customers, employees and suppliers.
The last area to cover in your review is your insurance policy and its position on environmental risk.
What legislations affects me, and how can I find out about it?
Environmental legislation is both complex and rapidly changing, but there are several universal aspects it covers.
Firstly, you are liable for the environmental damage you cause. The penalties can be steep – fines of 5,000 or more are standard, as are prison sentences for more grievous offences. Also, businesses that more directly impact upon the environment are more heavily legislated against, for instance manufacturing, transport, chemicals and agriculture are all strongly regulated.
Several different sources can help you find out about the legislation that affects you; these include your local authority, your trade association and your local branch of the Environmental Agency. You can find out more about environmental legislation here.
How can I make my production process more environmentally friendly?
If you take the time to consider the environmental impact of your production process at each particular stage, it can be easy to see ways of lessening it – possibly saving costs in the process.
Consider the product that you are selling, and the impact its manufacture and sale has on the environment. There are several changes you might be able to make. For instance, change the design and manufacturing process to use fewer resources. This can save money on materials, discard of waste, etc. Also, design the product to be reusable, or recyclable.
Also, try to use recycled/recyclable packaging. If you handle over 50 tonnes of packaging per year and have a turnover of £2m or more, you’re legally required to recycle a percentage of your packaging waste. And use materials that are environmentally responsible. Don’t use scarce natural resources, hazardous substances, and those with toxic by-products. Don’t by supplies that come with excessive packaging.
Another way to make your business greener is to change your production methods to be more environmental. Update your equipment to models that use less electricity and produce fewer emissions – more energy efficient equipment can save you in energy costs, and tax incentives may also be available.
Finally, put environmental information on your packaging. This will inform consumers how to lessen their environmental impact when using the product and also help boost your image.
How can I manage my waste in a more environmentally friendly manner?
Managing waste in an environmental manner is not just an ethical responsibility, it’s a legal one. You can limit the impact of waste management in several ways.
Start by exploring ways of reducing, re-using, recycling, and recovering your waste – offsetting rising waste disposal costs. Also, make sure to store your waste properly. Separate hazardous and general waste, and ensure they are stored in secure and clearly labelled containers.
Ensure your waste collector/disposer is doing so properly. Check they have an Environmental Agency license, and that the disposal site is licensed to dispose of the waste type you produce.
Finally, make consignment/transfer notes. Make sure you keep them for a minimum of three years. Businesses that sell electrical and electronic equipment must comply with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE).
Managing emissions and discharges
Governmental legislation is very strict on discharges and emissions. It’s important to make sure you know the rules about producing them safely and legally.
Make sure to get authorisation for airborne emissions as unauthorised emissions can see you prosecuted – consult the Environmental Agency. Moreover, make sure to get any effluent discharges authorised. Disposing of any non-ordinary domestic effluent (i.e. water) into a public sewer requires consent from the local water company.
Finally take measures to prevent accidental/negligent discharges (i.e. oil spills) and to reduce the impact of discharges/emissions on local people. They are your responsibility and could lead to a prosecution/hefty financial penalty if not properly handled. Litter, dust, smells and fumes can all upset locals and harm your business. Local authorities may also prosecute you.
How can I make my business more energy efficient?
In this respect, companies are no different from houses – it only takes a small amount of housekeeping to reduce your energy usage.
For one thing, be more energy conscious. Switch off lights and appliances that are not being used, close windows, adjust thermostats to reflect the seasons, and purchase insulation/draught proofing devices. And encourage employees to follow this example – making green habits second nature can save you an enormous amount.
Also, invest in more efficient equipment as long-term benefit can easily outweigh the short-term cost. You might also consider an ‘energy audit’ to identify ways of becoming more efficient. The Carbon Trust provides free advice on audits.
Where can I go to seek further help/advice?
There are many channels available to businesses seeking guidance and direction on environmental issues. Here are just a few:
Your local branch of the Environmental Agency
They can assist the environmental management of small businesses, often for free – find out more here.
The Carbon Trust
This is an organisation that offers free advice on reducing emission and saving energy – find out more here.
This group provides free expert advice on recycling waste/materials – learn more here.