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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 May 2007, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
Why it pays for firms to go green
Waste paper outside a London office
Reducing paper consumption cuts both waste and costs
Small firms can worry about the potential extra cost of being more environmentally friendly.

Yet as Dr Martin Gibson explains, going green can actually save companies money.

Dr Gibson is director of Envirowise, the government-financed programme designed to help companies reduce their environmental costs.

QUESTION
Keith Fallon, Swindon
It is all very well for the government to call on small firms to be more environmental, but who is going to pay for it?

We don't live in an ideal world, and many small companies can't afford to be totally environmental.

And on the same note, what exactly can the government enforce? How much of the environmental recommendations for the businesses are just that - recommendations?

ANSWER
Dr Martin Gibson, director of Envirowise
It is a common misconception that taking action to lower environmental impact will automatically cost small businesses money.

In fact, there are a number of low-cost or no-cost opportunities for boosting resource efficiency in the workplace.

We estimate that people who take action for the first time can identify savings of up to 250 per employee in office-based companies - or as much as 1,000 per employee for manufacturers.

For example, contrary to the expected trend towards the "paperless office", paper consumption continues to rise annually by around 20%.

When you consider that a single office worker can get through up to 100 sheets of paper every day, there is huge potential to reduce unnecessary paper usage and save money in the process.

After all, it costs more to buy paper in the first place, than to pay for its disposal.

A good place to start to cut down paper waste could be by implementing a double-sided print policy or "think before you print" campaign for office emails.

Alternatively, businesses could start placing a limit on paper use by specifying a monthly quota per employee or department.

Reducing water usage

Water efficiency is also an issue that has been hitting the headlines, and businesses are experiencing rising supply and disposal costs.

There are good business reasons for improving environmental performance, including lower costs and reduced liability

However, sites can achieve around 30% savings on water and effluent bills alone by implementing simple water management measures.

At Envirowise we have recently launched a series of user-friendly fact sheets targeting common areas such as toilets, taps, showers and kitchens.

We estimate that the UK's office workers use as much as 35 litres of water every day, 86% of which is a direct result of flushing toilets.

Yet the South East alone could potentially save 150m in a year, simply by fitting a displacement device to toilets used by each office worker.

Industry sectors such as food and drink and chemicals are also big water users and could benefit from our free sector-specific advice and information.

Boosting competitiveness

Businesses that haven't considered energy efficiency can usually reduce their energy use by at least 10% with no-cost or low cost measures that will pay back within weeks. The Carbon Trust has plenty of information on this.

Those firms which take action to become more resource efficient often find they are more flexible and competitive as a result, with long-term cost savings a real possibility.

There is a lot of regulation covering the environment but most companies only have to comply with a few regulations. All companies have a "duty of care" for waste.

This means they have to make sure that its waste is disposed of legally.

If it isn't, the company producing the waste can be liable even if it paid someone else to get rid of the waste.

For many, the only time they will breach regulations is if their operations go wrong.

For example, if an oil tank leaks and pollutes a stream or river.

For more information on regulations that apply to your business, you might take a look at the Environment Agency's Netregs website, which offers environmental guidance for small businesses.

Envirowise also offers information and advice for companies coping with the issues surrounding regulatory compliance.

It is true a lot of the recommendations are not binding. However, there is usually a strong link between a company's environmental performance and its business performance.

There are good business reasons for improving environmental performance, including lower costs and reduced liability.

I hope your company benefits from improved environmental performance.


To ask Dr Gibson a small business question, use the e-mail form below.

Alternatively, you can email another member of our small business and entrepreneurship panel of experts by clicking on one of the links on the right.

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