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Health and safety issues are more of a concern for small businesses than environmental duties, according to an expert body serving the SME sector.
UK2000 Group recently published a report* on its survey of 200 small firms across a wide range of sectors to determine levels of awareness of environmental issues and legislation, and current levels of activity in this area. When asked to indicate, on a scale ranging from ‘not important’ to ‘essential’, how important a range of issues were to their organisation, more than 46 per cent of respondents cited ‘health and safety in the workplace’ as essential, or very important. The only issue of greater importance was ‘keeping skills/training up to date’ (51 per cent).
Environmental issues — such as engaging suppliers with good ‘green’ credentials, reducing carbon footprint, and monitoring energy — scored far lower on the scale of concern. Nevertheless, more than 80 per cent of respondents said they feel environmental issues should be a high priority for business.
Only around half of the businesses surveyed had undertaken any environmental improvements and of those, the majority were ‘light touch’ — for example, recycling, waste minimisation in offices, and energy efficiency. Less than half of those who answered the question on their organisation’s environmental policy said they had one.
UK2000 Group concluded: “SMEs are of crucial importance to the UK economy, and together they constitute the largest percentage of all enterprises. Correspondingly, their combined impact on the environment can be significant. More needs to be done to ensure businesses are clear about their obligations, and to raise awareness regarding easily-accessed sources of legislative guidance.”
The report also emphasised that the economic downturn can provide opportunities for SMEs to lower costs and remain competitive by, for example, implementing efficient energy and waste-reduction measures. “Handled well,” it suggests, “sustainability could ease the effect of the recession at a local level, particularly for those that have not engaged in the resource-efficiency agenda previously.”
* Business and the environment — a survey report 2009 was carried out by UK2000 Group — a national, mutual association of quality-assured, independent accountancy and law firms providing services for the SME sector — in partnership with Middlesex University. Click here to download the report.