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Taking The Initiative: Leading The Way Towards Sustainable Business Practices

Taking The Initiative: Leading The Way Towards Sustainable Business Practices


In 2019, the UK government passed legislation to commit to the move to net zero carbon by 2050; it was the first major economy to do so.

Since then, 75% of UK businesses have identified their responsibilities under the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UNSDGs) and have been working towards their targets under guidance from the UK government and independent regulatory bodies.

Actions taken by businesses to become more eco-friendly and to work towards their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are known as ‘green initiatives’, and these small steps pave the way towards reaching the goal of net zero by 2050.

While there have been setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, there has been some progress too. For example, in 2021 the low carbon sector was estimated to be 4 times larger than the manufacturing sector, employing over 1.2 million people and being worth over £205.7 billion in total, as compared to just £55.6 billion for the manufacturing sector.

Despite this progress, there is still a long road to meeting the target of net zero.

There have been roadblocks to implementing green strategies – particularly in small businesses – and according to the Government’s Voluntary National Review 2019, the majority of small and medium enterprises have not engaged with the sustainable development goals at all, with 35% citing cost as a barrier to implementing sustainable business practices.

Clearly then, businesses need to do more if we are to meet our net zero target, but where to start? Let’s explore the environmental responsibilities that apply to businesses in the UK and give some simple ideas for green initiatives.


Environmental Responsibilities

Your environmental responsibilities will vary according to the type of company you run, your daily operations, and the waste materials produced.

They will include compliance with environmental legislation, waste disposal guidelines, and recycling regulations, while you will also need to conserve biodiversity, and to prevent and manage any pollution incidents.

Your company will also need to comply with guidance from your governing regulatory bodies, and to report any potential or actual pollution incidents from your site.


Environmental Legislation

Your business will also need to comply with a range of environmental legislation, including:

  • Compliance with air pollution legislation, including greenhouse gas emissions
  • Registering with the National Packaging Waste Database or an approved compliance scheme if your company handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year and has an annual turnover of over £2 million
  • Sorting recycling by material (paper, card, plastic, metal, glass, and food waste) prior to collection
  • The treatment and storage of waste, including verifying the authorisation of waste management companies and the completion of a waste transfer note or consignment note when waste goes to disposal
  • Seeking permission from your water company before disposing of trade effluent through the sewer system. This includes cooling or cleaning water, detergents, and waste chemicals
  • Compliance with restrictions on storage and use of hazardous substances. All hazardous waste must be accurately classified and described, and disposed of or stored appropriately at an authorised facility
  • Avoiding causing a ‘statutory nuisance’, which could cause harm or distress to another person. This includes noise, smoke, fumes, gases, odour, light pollution, or waste mismanagement
  • Alerting the enforcing authority and taking remedial action should your business operations cause an imminent threat to the environment. If an incident occurs, you will be required to risk assess the incident, and to take preventative action to prevent the situation from recurring


Handling And Disposal Of Hazardous Substances 

There are many substances that have been classified as dangerous to human health and the environment. These substances are regulated under the Chemicals (Hazard Information And Packaging For Supply) Regulations.

These regulations cover the handling, treatment, and disposal of hazardous substances, including animal byproducts, oil, solvents, chemicals, ozone-deleting substances (ODS), pesticides and biocides, and hazardous substances founds in electrical and electronic items.

Other relevant legislation relating to the handling and disposal of hazardous substances includes the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Regulations, which covers the manufacture, use, import, or recovery of chemicals, and the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2008 (RoHS), which places restrictions on the number of hazardous substances in products on the market.

Companies that handle ozone-depleting substances (ODS) or fluorinated gases are also required to fulfil several legal requirements that relate to the containment and recovery of these substances, and to ensuring your workforce has the relevant training and certifications to handle the substances properly.


Waste Management

It is your responsibility to ensure that your waste is stored in a secure and safe manner, treated correctly, and that your company uses an authorised waste management contractor (or the local authority) to properly dispose of it.

If your business is based in Scotland, you will also be required to sort your waste by material.

In addition, food businesses that produce over 50 kg of food waste per week are also required to sort their food waste, although there are limited exceptions for certain rural areas. The food waste must not be disposed of in a public drain or sewer, and to do so constitutes a criminal offence under section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991.


Conserving Biodiversity

There are many different areas across the country that are protected for their unique ecosystems and geological features – these are known as ‘protected areas’. All businesses around these areas should be conscious of their impact on the local environment, and should avoid activities that may put the biodiversity of these ecosystems at risk.

Protected areas include sites with flourishing biodiversity, such as nature reserves and marine ecosystems, areas of natural beauty (which are known as national scenic areas), and areas of scientific interest.


Prevention And Management Of Pollution Incidents

If there is an imminent threat to the environment, or an incident has already occurred, you must report it.

Under The Environmental Liability Regulations, operators of activities causing environmental damage must take preventative and remedial action to reduce the harm to local ecosystems, and may be held legally responsible in serious cases.

If a pollution incident has occurred on your company property, you should report it to the SEPA Pollution Hotline by calling 0800 80 70 60.


My Business Is Compliant, What Now?

If you feel that your business is compliant with environmental legislation, you may be wondering how you can do better, and what counts as a green initiative.

The good news is that any small step your business makes to be more eco-friendly counts towards government incentives such as free business advice, loans, and grants towards environmental certifications, like the Green Mark and ISO 14001, for example.

Here are three simple green initiatives that your company can take to promote sustainable development:


3 Simple Green Initiatives For The Workplace

1) Remote Working

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many difficulties for businesses that made it more

difficult to implement sustainable business strategies. But it also forced many people to begin working remotely.

In April 2020, when lockdown measures were in force throughout the UK, the percentage of people working from home increased from just 4% to 47%, and even after restrictions were lifted, levels of the greenhouse gas nitrogen dioxide in the air were 20% lower than before the pandemic.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions also plummeted during the lockdowns, dropping by 15% during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Additionally, The Global Workplace Analytics Report found that working from home for half the working week could reduce CO2 emissions by 54 million tonnes per year.

And there were several other benefits to remote working too, such as the reduced waste of paper, power, and plastic. Remote working also brought benefits to employees, such as having more personal time due to not needing to make their usual daily commute.

Plus, according to a study by FlexJobs, remote workers were also half as likely to struggle with their mental health than office workers, making remote working a positive step towards building a healthier and happier workforce.


2) Paperless Offices 

The stats relating to paper use are quite shocking.

15 billion trees are destroyed every year as a result of deforestation, and globally, 50% of all paper comes from virgin forests. Our dependence on paper-based products accounts for a huge 14% of all trees chopped down, and each 200kg of paper costs 500 kWh of electricity to produce.

Just one employee can use an entire tree per year, which equates to 50 trees per year for the average SME, and after using such a vast quantity of natural resources, 75% of all paper used by the average UK office worker goes to waste. In fact, 50% of all business waste is paper, making it one of the most wasted resources in UK businesses.

On a practical level, going paperless is an easy way to save money and time. Without printing costs, there are fewer office expenses to cover, and data is easily and instantaneously transferred at a simple click of a button, with no need to wait for it to be printed or distributed. In fact, research from software provider mpro5 found that going paperless could save businesses up to £32,763 per year on just paper, administration, and printing costs.

On both environmental and practical levels, going paperless is a simple way to make your office run in a more sustainable and efficient manner.


3) Reducing Waste

Reducing your business’ waste is a simple and cost-effective way to become more sustainable while saving your company money.

Green initiatives can be easily worked into your daily office routine and can be as simple as introducing a recycling system, checking that all lights and PCs are switched off for the night, installing insulation to prevent energy wastage, or staying on top of your plumbing to prevent water waste from leaks.

You could also introduce new vegetarian and vegan options to your staff canteen, install a water butt, or perhaps cut down on your use of plastics.

However, if you have decided to recycle more of your company waste, you should also be aware of your business’ responsibilities under its legal Duty Of Care. According to this legislation, businesses must meet a series of conditions before they begin formally recycling their waste en masse.


Would you like to learn more about green initiatives and how your business can use them to help yourself and the planet? Give us a call!


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