As issues surrounding the environment and the way in which we treat our world become ever more prevalent, SBT has a look at what support is available and why business should endeavour to embrace sustainable development

Having a more sustainable, ‘green’ approach towards how we live our lives and treat the environment around us has been a hot topic for a while now. Over the course of the last decade or so in particular, the Labour, coalition, and Conservative governments have endeavoured to promote greener business operations. As a result, various incentives and initiatives have been introduced. So what’s on offer and are they having the desired outcome?

Published by the Labour government in 2005, the ‘UK Sustainable Development Strategy: Securing the Future’ paper suggested the key role that businesses play in sustainability, improving resource efficiency and reducing waste and harmful emissions. This was reinforced by the business resource efficiency and waste programme (BREW), launched the same year. As an example of the type of improvements that needed to be made, it was reported that the cost of wasted natural resources to the UK manufacturing industry was equivalent to around 7% of profit, and that energy efficiency improvements by business and individuals could save £12 billion annually across the UK economy.

The UK Sustainable Development Strategy paper also suggested that business’ approach to corporate responsibility would need to extend throughout their supply-chains, ‘from tackling the issues arising in the extraction of their raw materials, to engagement with consumers about the products and services that they buy and eventually discard. Simply relying on consumers to make potentially complex choices is far from sufficient’ – said the paper.

However, being ‘green’ can be an expensive exercise, creating a barrier for many smaller businesses. In an effort to get as many businesses as possible across the UK involved in reducing their environmental impact, the government and local councils have developed a number of initiatives and schemes, chief among which are environmental taxes, reliefs and schemes that encourage businesses to operate in a more environmentally friendly way. A range of grants – energy efficiency grants and free energy audits, low carbon workspaces grants, eco innovation grants, and grants to help reduce business travel costs – have also been introduced to make sustainable development more viable.

Creative Commons- photo by mattwalker69 – 91957046

A relatively simple step, such as switching to energy efficient lighting would certainly appear to be a worthwhile undertaking. According to lighting supplier BLT Direct making this switch can reduce lighting energy usage by up to 80% compared to conventional light sources, whilst also greatly increasing life span – energy efficient bulbs can last up to an impressive 25,000 hours. So, although some may be put off using energy efficient lighting by the higher initial cost, the savings from energy saving bulbs mean that they soon pay for themselves. A switch to LED lighting at Arundel Museum, for example, is expected to save over 5,700 kWh per year, equivalent to £716 and 2.77 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). At an initial cost of £950, the new units should pay for themselves in around sixteen months. Another example is the Sheldon Hotel in Eastbourne, which was given a £1,000 grant from the Energy Efficient East Sussex programme to install energy efficient lighting. Sensor-controlled LED spotlights in the hotel reception have reduced annual electricity consumption by 6,400 kWh and costs by £700.

This is likely to raise the interest of certain business owners in the wake of a survey that highlights the apparent unpredictability of the energy prices around the UK. A recent study by Love Energy Savings revealed that the price of energy bills can vary depending on the postcode of the business – surprisingly, it revealed that the energy prices of a small sized company in Liverpool were almost £1000 more expensive than that of a similar company in central London.

Of course there are a fair few businesses that are already switched on to the benefits of being green. According to research conducted by O2 a few years ago, some businesses were even forging ahead of the government when it came to environmental issues. The research found that corporate commitment to environmentalism had reached a tipping point as businesses had found that making themselves green could do more than just boost their image. Nearly 60% of the 500 senior executives questioned said sustainability could increase market share whilst almost half felt it could boost profits by making their operations more efficient.

Whilst the lure of cost savings and extra profits may form a large part of what makes sustainability attractive to business (after all, they do need to make money) businesses have also been facing up to the fact that they are increasingly expected to operate in a sustainable manner; by staff, shareholders, and the general public. While many of us may do our bit at home, it is of course businesses that have a far greater impact on resources, waste and emissions and therefore the potential to make the biggest difference. In fact, the feeling around corporate social responsibility has become so strong in recent years that a survey by BT found that more than a third of young professionals valued working for a socially responsible employer over earning a higher salary.

Regardless of their reasons for doing so, both large and small businesses are indeed jumping on board and joining the sustainability party; which undoubtedly is a great thing. However, there are still plenty of SMEs remaining that either don’t have the time, or simply do not know about the schemes, grants and benefits that may be available to them; which is where sustainable partnerships come in.

Looking towards Sussex, organisations such as the Sustainable Business Partnership (SBP) CIC have been established. Through a combination of events, seminars and assistance with obtaining grants, the SBP aims to assist and support businesses, social enterprises and public sector organisations across the region in an effort to help them to both reduce costs and their environmental impact. Similarly, the East Sussex business excellence through resource efficiency (BETRE) initiative provides advice to local small businesses on reducing waste, energy and water use. Another local example is the Green Growth Platform, launched by the University of Brighton in 2014. The platform supports Sussex’s green sector through a network of environmentally focused businesses, their aim being ‘to deliver a menu of one-to-one business support, innovation and R&D support, events and skills development.’

These schemes and initiatives would appear to be bearing fruit too, with the East Sussex BETRE project reporting that since 2003 it has helped to: cut enough CO2 emissions to fill 2,800 Boeing 767s per year; save enough energy to drive a small car over 8 million miles per year; save enough water to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools per year; divert enough waste from local landfills to fill 236 dumper trucks per year; and save local businesses £1.3 million. As an individual example, the BETRE project helped East Sussex charity, Pestalozzi International Village Trust to identify potential savings of up to £12,000 per year on their energy bills. In addition, it provided a Green Action Award to help improve heating controls, which cut gas use by 34% and saved £2,600 per year.

There’s been positive news also from the University of Brighton, who reported in late 2015 that their Green Growth Platform was already over halfway to its target of working with 1000 businesses by 2018. In addition, a 2015 report by the government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills showed that the low carbon and environmental economy has displayed year-on-year growth over the period from 2010 to 2013.

Encouraging signs then, but we can by no means afford to take our foot off the pedal. Unfortunately this is an issue that has no easy solution and all businesses, regardless of their size, increasingly need to face up to their responsibility to reduce the negative impact that their operations can have on the environment. Of course, this isn’t the responsibility of business only; it lies with everyone, everywhere.