Green issues slip down the SME priority list

SMEs are in denial about their green credentials - because they have bigger concerns at the moment.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

SMEs don’t have a proper understanding of their environmental impact, according to new research published by the Environment Agency. Only 7% think they have a negative impact on their environment, but in fact, almost half do. And worse still for the green lobby, small firms seem to be even less interested in improving their credentials now we’re in a recession – presumably because they’re much more worried about having a business at all than they are about having a green one...

To be fair, there has been some progress lately. The number of small firms trying to improve their water and energy efficiency has apparently doubled in the last couple of years, while the percentage that recycles its own waste has jumped from 66% to 84%. All in all, more than half of Britain’s SMEs now have some kind of environmental policy, which suggest that the majority of firms do recognise it as an issue.

That’s the good news. But there are two problems. First, these firms seem to be over-estimating the effectiveness of their efforts, at least if the Environment Agency’s figures are to be believed. Second, they seem to be losing interest. Only one in five are planning to invest in improving their performance in the next 12 months, while awareness of particular regulations is down, and there’s been a big drop in the number of companies with the formal ‘Environmental Management Systems’ the Government is so keen on (with ever more green rules in the pipeline, you need some way to keep track).

This is hardly surprising. In tough times like these, many SMEs will see this stuff as 'nice-to-have', rather than 'essential'. The Agency’s compliance arm NetRegs wants every firm to appoint a ‘Green Ambassador’, but many just won’t be able to afford the resource – they’re too busy trying desperately to bring in the sales and deliver the work that will keep the company in the black. Then again, failure to comply with environmental regulations could lead to a fine of up to £10,000 – and nobody wants that kind of hit to the bottom line at the moment…

Speaking of SME headaches, a rather self-serving piece of research reached us today from ab8, a legal cost-cutting specialist. It’s selflessly been quizzing more than 1,000 SME owners about the most intimidating tasks they have to perform in business, and top of the list came – you guessed it – arguing with lawyers about fees. So we're actually being asked to believe that the average small business owner dreads legal fee wrangles more than firing staff, speaking to a room full of peers, or being investigated by the taxman - by a specialist in legal fee wrangles. Who'd have thought it?

In today's bulletin:

The NHS: Britain's unhealthiest place to work?
Manufacturers cheer up - but Governor begs to differ
John Menzies up - but Jessops slides again
'Pay now, die later' funeral packages on the rise
Green issues slip down the SME priority list

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