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What are your environmental responsibilities as a small business?

Seacourt

6 minute read

Zoe Bicknell
What are your environmental responsibilities as a small business?
Seacourt

Over the past few years the human race has started to bring the impact we’re collectively having on the planet to the front of our minds and media. From taking a stand against plastic straws and carrier bags to adopting greener transport and energy suppliers, we’re making some positive steps but there’s still a long way to go.

This awareness of our responsibilities has been impacting more and more areas of our lives. Take purchasing products for example, half of online consumers say environmental concerns impact the decisions they make when buying products. Over 60% of millennials would pay extra if it meant getting eco-friendly or sustainable products, with 55% of Gen X following close behind.

It’s also affecting where we want to work, with three quarters of people working at SMEs saying sustainability is important to them.

What does all this mean for your business, however? Not only does your environmental sustainability have an impact on who and how many consumers shop with you and the business talent you can attract through your employees, there’s also legislation and policies your business must adhere to.

In partnership with Seacourt, a net positive printer who were awarded ‘Europe’s most sustainable SME’ in 2017, we’re going to delve deeper into four environmental regulations that could impact your business, and get you thinking about your own sustainability.

What is environmental sustainability?

The Business Dictionary describes environmental sustainability as: “The maintenance of the factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis.” Simply put, your sustainability refers to the impact your business has on the environment.

What these four new environmental legislations can teach you about business sustainability

There are some environmental policies and laws that your business has to comply to, depending on type of establishment, industry, and outputs. Instead of listing all of these in this one article, we’ve decided to focus on four new pieces of legislation and how they could help your SME start thinking about your own sustainability, with some expertise from Seacourt themselves.

1. Increase in landfill tax

Landfill tax is charged on materials which are disposed of at a landfill or unauthorised waste site. The purpose is to try and decrease the amount of materials that are physically produced and to encourage the use of alternative waste management options, such as recycling.

In April 2019 landfill tax increased and is set to rise again in April 2020 to £94.15 per tonne for ‘standard waste’ and £3 per tonne for ‘lower rate’ waste. It’s starting to have an impact too, with the total amount of commercial and industrial waste produced in the UK dropping by more than 5 million tonnes between 2012 and 2014.

Seacourt
Seacourt

What does this mean for small businesses?

Even if your business is not impacted by the landfill tax directly, you can start thinking about your own waste disposal and the changes you can make to reduce your contribution to landfill:

  • Take a look at the Better Business Pack (created by Seacourt and other reputable partners) which has some great tips on how to start your own waste management programme.
  • Make some changes, starting with some simple steps. Even increasing the number of recycling stations in your office space or making it clear to employees what can be recycled can go a long way.
  • Encourage your employees to get involved and make sure they are clear on any new plans and policies.
  • Could you change materials or suppliers to reduce your waste to landfill? For example, switching to 100% recycled printer paper, stationery, and notebooks?

Striving to become a zero-waste business (zero-waste referring to sending no materials to landfill or the ocean) can have a big impact on eliminating carbon emissions. It’ll also help you get ahead of any future legislation or laws which may put stricter taxes on other waste disposal methods in the future.

Plan to make x1 positive change a month, its manageable to do and within 6 months you will have significantly improved the environmental performance of your business. Tell your customers about your plans, share your journey with them – this will ultimately result in happier customers and enhanced brand reputation. Good for the planet, good for your business.

Gareth Dinnage, Managing Director at Seacourt

2. Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ)

Back in April this year, the world’s toughest vehicle emission zones where introduced in the capital, to try and reduce toxic air pollution and to protect the public’s health. Now in central London, a new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) operates 24 hours a day, every day in the Congestion Charge zones.

In order to travel through these zones, the majority of vehicles need to meet special ULEZ standards or they must pay a fine, which starts from around £12.50 for most smaller vehicles, but rockets up to £100 for heavier vehicles and vans. Since implementation, there has been a 55% increase in the number of vehicles travelling through the Zones daily that meet these new emission standards.

What does this mean for small businesses?

If your business sells products which are delivered to customers, it’s time to start thinking about your product’s journey and whether some of your deliveries could be impacted by these zones:

  • Have a look at your suppliers and couriers, do their vehicles meet these criteria?
  • Is there a more sustainable way you could transport your goods to customers? For example, UK couriers, Green Courier, use low carbon emitting fleets, including electric vans and bicycles.
  • Think one step before this, how friendly is your packaging? Could you reduce any of it, or make it more environmentally friendly in the future?

Using an environmental conscious courier could act as a good selling point for your business, and one which consumers are more likely to pay a little extra for. Just as importantly you’ll be playing your part in reducing carbon emissions and being one step ahead if these emission zones expand to other business hotspots in the future.

Take sustainability as an opportunity, not a threat. The Better Business Pack gives you 9 things that you can do to make positive changes, these changes are not just good for the planet, but good for your business. Sustainability is simply good business.

Gareth Dinnage, Managing Director at Seacourt

3. Clean Air Strategy 2019

This year, the Government published a new ‘Clean Air Strategy’ which aims to help tackle sources of air pollution. The aim is to introduce new legislation and stronger frameworks to help make the air around us healthier, protecting us, nature, and the economy.

What does this mean for small businesses?

Although this policy document doesn’t directly affect small businesses, there’s certainly some lessons you can take from it:

  • If you’re a sole trader working from home, are there some changes you can make to reduce your outputs?
  • Can you conduct meetings over video conferences rather than travelling in the car?
  • Switching to green energy suppliers can also have a big impact on reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Can you get your staff involved in making changes to reduce air pollution? Encouraging cycling to work schemes, or allowing staff to work from home, or even incentivising the use of electric vehicles, where possible, could have a big impact.

This type of legislation can be effective at encouraging your business not only to make positive impacts to cleaning up the air around you, but also can be a great opportunity to get staff and employees involved.

Climate change is the most pressing challenge we face today and affects us all. The thing is that we all have an impact – what’s really good about that is this gives each of us the opportunity to make positive changes that can make a real difference.

Gareth Dinnage, Managing Director at Seacourt

4. The EU’s ban on single use plastics by 2021

Although we can’t comment or foresee how this could look or work for the UK after Brexit, this legislation raises the issue around waste and the use and choice of materials businesses use.

The European Parliament has voted to ban single use plastics by the year 2021, including products made from the material such as straws, cutlery, and plates. It will also impact any drink containers which are currently produced from expanded polystyrene and any products made with oxo-degradable plastic.

What does this mean for small businesses?

The main takeaway here is to have a think about the suppliers your business uses and whether there are materials in any of your products that could be at risk of being flagged as a concern now or in the future:

  • Start to think long term where possible, are there any changes you can start to make now which could help your production line in the future?
  • Research if there are any more sustainable materials out there.
  • Think about your suppliers, are there more sustainable options? The Better Business Pack has some useful templates to start conversations with suppliers on their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Dedicate some time to reviewing your suppliers and seeing if there are any better options that could help you make a positive impact.

Ready to get started?

Hopefully we’ve managed to sow a few seeds about how your business can start to take more steps to fulfil your environmental responsibilities, from both a legal and legislation perspective, and also from an internal and supply chain angle.

Seacourt have created the Better Business Pack with some trusted partners to help businesses in Oxfordshire become more sustainable. There are loads of handy tips you can pick up from the pack, regardless of where you’re based, to help your business become better for the planet. You can take a look at the nine steps here.

Don’t forget to keep your customers and staff involved in your efforts, not only will you comply with environmental policies, you’ll be improving your brand reputation and most importantly doing your part to help the planet. You can learn more about becoming an eco-friendly business here.  

This article was written in partnership with Seacourt, the planet positive printer.

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Zoe works as a Content Marketing Executive at the UK Domain. Previously working in advertising and the sporting industry, Zoe has over four years experience in marketing.

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