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Small firms warned over pollution fines

Small businesses risk huge fines if they fail to make sure they have sufficient environmental procedures in place.

New sentencing guidelines mean that firms with a turnover of less than £2 million a year could face a maximum fine of £95,000 – and their directors jailed – if they behave recklessly and cannot prove they have taken reasonable steps to ensure all their employees comply with the laws on pollution and waste.

Here’s our guide on how to make sure your business has the right environmental policy.

Pollution pic

The benefits of an environmental policy

Having an environmental policy in place is good for your business because it helps you stay within the law. It also makes employees aware of their environmental responsibilities, keeps costs down and improves efficiency.

Before writing a policy, look at what other businesses have done, and choose the format and style most appropriate to your own business.

Keep your policy short (no more than one page of A4) so everyone is clear on the relevant points, and make it available on your website.

What your policy should cover

There is no standard structure for an environmental policy, and it’s important to tailor yours to reflect your business and its culture. However, there are key areas that should be covered. Make sure you’ve assessed which aspects of your business affect the environment, what the potential impact is and who is accountable.

Your policy should include the following:

• Mission statement outlining your objectives to improve your environmental performance.

• Commitment to prevent pollution and manage significant environmental impacts.

• Recognition that you will comply with relevant environmental legislation.

• Pledge to educate and train employees in environmental issues and the effects of their actions.

• Pledge to monitor progress and review environmental performance at least once a year.

Here are some examples of what you can do to show your commitment to reducing your carbon footprint:

Energy efficiency –Use low energy lighting, and make sure PCs, lights and other electrics are turned off at the end of the day. Regulate the temperature by ensuring the heating and air conditioning aren’t turned up too high.

Transport –Only take business trips that are really necessary. Email and videoconferencing should be utilised to their full potential. Car-sharing and Cycle to Work schemes can also reduce the impact of traffic on the environment.

Stationery and office supplies –Reduce the use of paper and packaging where possible, and reuse everything that can be recycled. Check how eco-friendly new products are before buying them, and consider renting equipment instead of purchasing it outright.

Maintenance and cleaning –Only use licensed organisations to dispose of waste, and use environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Implementing your policy

Your policy will need to be communicated effectively to your staff so it can be put into practice. They may need formal training or presentations to explain what’s expected of them. You should then provide them with regular updates through email or the intranet. It’s also a good idea to appoint green ambassadors who can encourage their colleagues to behave more responsibly.

A similar practice to this is adopted at the BE Business Centres, where recycling, waste and energy consumption are closely monitored by a dedicated Green Group who make sure the offices are as eco-friendly as possible.