How can the behaviour of my business impact the environment?
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” Robert Swan, Polar explorer and advocate for protection of Antarctica
Research shows that in today’s competitive market, the perception that a company is socially and environmentally responsible can be a major point of differentiation for consumers. Without a good reputation it is increasingly difficult for businesses to operate. All businesses, large and small, can have an impact on the environment, and you can contribute to the reduction of this impact.
Environmental management is the same as any kind of management; firstly, you have to identify the impacts and then work out how to deal with them. Impacts on the environment can be small or large and can be on a local and a global scale. For example, cranking up the heating on a cold winter’s day will send gas and electricity bills spiralling, and will use up more of the finite fossil fuel resource on a global scale. The combustion of this fuel will also lead to emissions of carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global warming. You wouldn’t do this at home without considering the cost to the environment, and to your pocket – so would you do it at work? If no one is currently considering the impact on the environment of your work, then why not have a go?
The best way to do it is to develop a small working group of like-minded individuals who are keen to learn, develop and improve your organisation. Sit down together and make a list of where your company has an impact on the environment. It could be a relatively short list, or a much longer, more substantial list. Consider impacts on resource use, energy, water and consumables. Consider also the outputs of this use, such as waste, plus where the consumables have some from? Look at your suppliers and purchasing guidelines. Also consider how people get to work. Are there any incentives to avoid single occupancy car journeys? Do your operations have an impact on any communities around you? Would employees like to contribute time to help out on a local nature project to improve local biodiversity?
If you are struggling about where to start, then look for some guidance. This could be in the form of a paid consultant to work with you for the day, to facilitate a meeting, and perhaps help with the ‘science bit’.
Also consider the development and implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS). The ISO 14001 Standard provides guidance to implement the system and obtaining external accreditation for this system demonstrates a clear commitment to continual improvement.
Data published in October 2016 by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) shows an 8% worldwide growth in the uptake of ISO 14001, the international Environmental Management Standard. The worldwide total of accredited ISO 14001 certificates now stands at 319,234, which is a year-on-year increase of over 25,000 certificates between 2014 and 2015.
If ISO14001 accreditation is not for you, there is a stepped approach to implementing an EMS, in the form of BS 8555. There is also free guidance available to get started.
Apart from ‘doing the right thing’, what other drivers are there for businesses to consider their environmental issues? There is often an option to save money; this may be through a review of spending on waste disposal, energy management or water use. Often reducing reliance on these resources will lead to reduced bills.
For the majority of companies there will be some form of environmental legislation that will be applicable. This would include waste legislation covering the Duty of Care and disposal of waste. Some producer responsibility legislation may be applicable to companies that procure and use packaging, sell electrical equipment and equipment containing batteries. For others, depending on their size, they may be captured by energy-related legislation.
Fines for breaches of environmental legislation are on the increase. For example, in the waste sector the fines imposed on waste companies as a result of prosecution brought by the regulator totalled just over £707,000 in 2015, an 85% increase from 2014 (£383,000).
This is the result of an increase in the number of offences being prosecuted, from 51 in 2014 to 108 in 2015, and a 26% rise in the average fine per prosecution.
There are also items that are not legal requirements, but considered to be good practice. These can include procurement issues, including the use of sustainable timber, considering the life cycle of products and materials, and how and who has made them.
Once you have identified your issues and what you want to do about them, collate this information in an action plan, and assign timings, responsibilities and budget where needed. There is funding and guidance around to assist you. Then the hard work will begin – engaging other members of the organisation, training, raising awareness and then implementing your plan.
For businesses in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Netregs has a self-assessment tool and elearning modules available. Business Wales can provide help and support on environmental management issues for Welsh business and in England there is some information on www.gov.uk. Your local authority may also be able to help. For specific energy issues, the carbon trust www.carbontrust.com can also help.
In conclusion, adopting good environmental practice at work is not just fantastic for the environment, it can also be good for the bottom line and be a key factor in motivation and productivity.
Blog by: Gemma Fenn