When the European Commission published its first Environmental Implemental Review to assess the performance of the 28 member countries regarding the implementation of environmental EU legislations – air pollution, water and waste management regulations, nature protection laws, etc.–, the report was careful to only name a few countries. Indeed, by focusing on the bright side of the environmental results, the European Commission hoped to inspire lesser performing countries to tackle their green issues.
But since the first report from the European Commission, environmentalists have identified the bad guys that were left out of the published review. The United Kingdom, which has one of the lowest percentages of protected species under threat in the EU – with 42.3% – has been a serious concern when it comes to air quality. Indeed, the UK struggles to improve its air quality in busy urban areas; regular breaches of its air requirements don’t only affect the environment but also the health of the population. Air pollution causes 64,000 early deaths in the UK every single year. It doesn’t only make London look foggier than usual. It kills just as much as tobacco. Urban water waste is also a worrying topic for the UK, as the progress on reducing nitrate pollution to improve the quality of water – from bathing waters to wildlife sites and marine water – has been slow despite the promise by the government to deliver a Green Brexit. Ultimately, MPs have raised the alarm over air and water quality in the UK, referring to nitrate pollution as a time bomb ticking. What are British companies doing to tackle environmental issues in today’s Britain?
90% SMEs believe in environmentally friendly processes
In theory, the UK business world is enthusiastic about environmental issues. 9 out of 10 SMEs believe that sustainability and environmentally-friendly processes need to be an integral part of their business. But the good news, unfortunately, stops here. Over half of SMEs – a whopping 53% – confess that they have not yet invested in making their business a little greener. The budget for sustainability is mostly non-existent across most companies. Even though many declare that making the world a greener place should be a top priority of their business strategy, it rarely figures on the day-to-day list of to-do. There is also no indication that sustainable processes and plans will be part of the foreseeable future – for many, the next 12 month period shows no desire to implement sustainable initiatives. Environmental and sustainability priorities are, however, not an unknown discussion. Over 55% of SMEs are clear that reducing waste within the company should be their first measure, followed by the introduction of eco-friendly offices, sustainable materials for production processes, renewable energy resources, and low-emission fleet vehicles. So, the failure to tackle green issues can’t be blamed on a lack of clarity. Businesses in the UK are more than aware of what needs doing. Yet, most fail to do it.
Why do they fail?
It is essential to understand that British SMEs are interested in environmental issues. Unfortunately, many feel crippled by the lack of funding initiatives at a national and local level. Indeed, the UK has not yet introduced sufficient environmental funding policies to support SMEs in the implementation of eco-friendly processes. Additionally, there is no government-led infrastructure to provide both practical and legal guidance at a business level, which can slow down independent initiatives and strategies. However, while capital is a substantial obstacle, it is fair to mention that business commitment to sustainability and environmental procedures doesn’t have to break the bank. Indeed, more and more small companies are dedicated to introducing cost-effective initiatives to their strategies. The bottom line is that businesses sometimes fail to think their way around financing issues. There is no reason why sustainable behaviours for SMEs should drain the budget.
Where should they start?
A growing number of businesses have chosen to tackle environmental issues through simple gestures that have a lasting impact. Indeed, educating your customers to sustainability matters and helping them to make better choices in their projects can make a difference. For a business to become a company with environmental permit, the commitment to the environment is as much about understanding how your activities affect the planet than seeking ways to reduce pollution in your sector. Strategies to train employees, reduce in-house waste and recruit environmentally-aware suppliers do not need governmental funding. Positive behaviours in the office, such as reducing paper waste, is a lot more cost-effective than businesses think. https://www.docusign.co.uk/blog/6-ways-reduce-paper-waste-from-work/ In an era where most employees have access to digital tools to take notes, create and share documents, and store information, printing becomes an unjustifiable waste.
What’s the next step?
British companies, however, need to establish a consensus on their approach to sustainability. When the government fails to deliver on its promises – which has unfortunately been repeatedly the case as identified by the European Commission – it is necessary for the business world to take the matter into their own hands. For instance, big business names have pledged to make the move towards 100% renewable energy in their London offices in an effort to make the city a zero-carbon area by 2050. Similar initiatives can be rolled out to other urban centres in the UK. Businesses decisions to encourage remote work for all employees could be another brilliant way of reducing significantly the reliance on fossil fuels, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. From a business perspective, telecommuting strategies have become widely implemented and without any loss in productivity or quality.
Together for a green Europe
In the long term, we can only hope that British businesses find inspiration in the way smart cities across Europe are using technology to create new environmental standards. Copenhagen, one of the world’s leading cities in low carbon footprint has successfully shown that connecting business, social and personal life through a shared tech platform allows both a green and productive lifestyle. Becoming carbon neutral is not an impossible dream anymore. But it requires commitment, not only from businesses but also the population and the government.
To answer a burning question, the UK is not yet on track concerning environmental issues. In Europe, the UK is one of the bad guys regarding its sustainability efforts. However, the initiatives of small businesses can tip the balance and influence the government to invest in making the country a green and safe place.