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What does sustainability mean for business?

On 26th April a briefing talk was given at the Chamber breakfast meeting on the importance of businesses incorporating  more environmentally positive practices in their businesses. Regardless of size every business should be thinking about how they can improve their environmentally sustainable credentials.  This is becoming a critical success factor and key to the long term survival of business in the future.

If nothing else the introduction of a number of government initiatives are increasingly impacting every business. Some of the new legislation introduced recently includes the sugar tax to tackle obesity and ensure that businesses are not profiting from people’s misery. The Clean Air Act, Water Reduction Act both of which have been introduced so that companies reduce their impact on our environmental resources. Businesses who sell products with high sugar content have begun to add healthier alternatives to their range to save on cost. Whilst manufacturers of high sugar products have been forced to reduce the amount of sugar in their ingredients to less than 10% to avoid falling into the sugar tax bracket. The 5p tax on plastic bags has led to a change in consumer behaviour around buying habits. There has also been a recent ban on the plastic balls inside shower gel and other soap product. So even corner shops who bought stocks of these products would see their products lose value over night as they are not able to sell them. The national living wage and auto enrolment of employee pensions are other areas where the government is trying to ensure that businesses operate with good people practices and not just focus on profits.

With all these external environment changes it is apparent that as a business large or small you cannot afford to stand still with regards to environmental and social sustainability.  It is absolutely imperative that as a business you develop a plan of how to incorporate sustainability factors into your business.

Businesses need an environmental policy

One place to start is by developing an environmental policy if you don’t already have one. It is a good demonstration of your organisations commitment to environmental sustainability if the management work towards achieving an external quality standard such as the ISO 14001. Having an ISO 14001 environmental policy shows that there is a commitment from the senior levels throughout the organisation to controlling and improving the environmental impact you make as a business.

What is an environmental policy?

An environmental policy outlines the overall intentions and direction of how the company will monitor and control its impact on the environment. For it to have maximum effect it needs to either come from the top or have the commitment from the top management.

What needs to be included in the policy?

In order for the policy to meet the ISO 14001 requirements it needs to have specific elements in it.

  1. Appropriate to the organisation – the policy needs to be written at the appropriate level for the organisation and with a specific focus on the areas that it has an environmental impact. If you are a solicitor that uses a lot of paper then a policy which talks about saving water is not as relevant as one that talks about recycling paper.
  2. Continual improvement – The policy should include a commitment to continual improvement in your processes in order to reduce the environmental impact.
  3. Prevention of pollution – the policy should state the organisation’s commitments to reducing pollution. it does not need to explain how it will do this but can be sign posted to the environmental procedures of the organisation.
  4. Comply with legal and other requirements – the policy must also state that the company complies with all legal and other requirements related to your environmental aspects e.g the Clean Air Act, Noise Pollution, etc.
  5. Framework for objectives and targets – the policy should act as a framework for setting plans and targets and monitoring achievement against the plans. For instance, if the policy states a commitment to reducing pollution then the business plans and targets should reflect what actions will be taken to reduce the pollution and by how much.

Once the environmental policy has been produced it needs to be;

  • approved by management, documented in hard copy and implemented (put into action).
  • It should be reviewed at least annually by management and the board.
  • It should be communicated to all staff and
  • It should be available to the public should they ask to see a copy of it.

Check out an example of an environmental policy

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