Recession pushes green policies down the business agenda

Smaller businesses are devoting less attention to green policies as they cope with the economic downturn, a new survey has revealed.

The government website NetRegs, a partnership between the UK environmental regulators, polled some 7,000 UK firms on their environmental policies.

The survey showed that there has been a decline of 75 per cent in the proportion of SMEs that operate a basic formal environmental management system.

Over a half reported that an environmental policy was of no use to them during a recession. A third were unable to name one piece of environmental legislation affecting businesses, while 46 per cent conceded that their business operations posed a risk to the environment.

Debbie Chatting, the website's strategy manager, expressed concern at the low priority now being given to green measures after evidence that firms had been making good progress on their responsibilities to the environment.

She said: "It's good to see improvement in SMEs' green business activities, but efforts are clearly starting to fall back in many areas. Our survey has unearthed a level of denial among some small businesses that still donπt acknowledge the harm that they can do to the environment, nor recognise the business opportunity greening their operations presents to them.

"SMEs make up 99 per cent of British business so their cumulative impact is huge; they simply cannot be apathetic or maintain indifference."

To counter the dip in green awareness among SMEs, Ms Chatting urged the appointment of a green ambassador by firms.

She continued: "Many companies in the supply chain now include specific environmental questions in their tender forms, so by building measures into your business plan, training your staff and taking an environmentally responsible stance throughout your business, you will reap the rewards of winning more work. And you'll comply with the law."

NetRegs also pointed out that there are regulatory penalties for ignoring environmental legislation. The research showed that SMEs are facing ever higher fines for environmentally unfriendly practices, with an average penalty for guilty firms coming to £10,000.

Figures from the Environment Agency have indicated that nearly half of all industrial polluting is carried out by SMEs.

There was some good news, however, in the survey. Over half (55 per cent) of SMEs now have measures in place to reduce the harm they do to the environment, and 84 per cent are recycling their waste, up from 66 per cent in 2007.

Ms Chatting concluded: "NetRegs has developed a simple online self-assessment checklist, which is free and can help identify green measures that will save most businesses real cash. In fact businesses that receive NetRegsπ free regular updates save around £2,600 a year. Environment, profit and staff motivation go hand in hand."

NetRegs can be found at http://www.netregs.gov.uk/