ISO 14001 is a useful tool for keeping track of environmental improvements and keeping your business legally compliant. As well as a good way of showing customers, colleagues and employees that you are contributing to the gradual repair and improvement of our planet.
For SME’s its an effective, simple and methodical way of ensuring that while you are concentrating on keeping your business working, invoices paid and customers happy, you don’t get hit by a hefty fine for not complying with some government target which you may not know even existed.
Most tendering processes and contracts linked to government funded projects have had a requirement for ISO 14001 certification for a number of years. Having an accredited certificate to show you comply with ISO 14001 can avoid you having to provide significant information and fill out endless pages of questions.
However, with all the pressure on SME’s, do we also have to be concerned about environmental fines? Surely the government has bigger fish to fry?
Well, OK big companies tend to receive a lot of attention, in July 2021 Southern Water were fined £90m for unpermitted sewage discharges. But Southern Water is owned by Greensands Holdings Limited, a conglomerate with almost endless financial resources, so they can probably afford it (source).
According to government statistics, in 2017, 5.7 million firms fell into the SME category, representing 99 percent of all UK registered businesses and contributing 50% of our environmental impact, and where there is impact, there are fines!
In the same year the Guardian reported that between £1,500 and £375,000 in “enforcement undertakings” had been accepted by businesses as an alternative to prosecutions for breaking environmental laws (source). The total gleaned from these undertakings totalled in excess of £1m5.
In 2018 The Times reported “The average fine for companies that have breached environmental law has risen six-fold in the past five years” (source). According to this site, by 2021, this had increased to 1072 penalties issued, raising £380.7m for the government. This site shows a threat to shareholders when businesses fail to change sufficiently. Though this seems restricted to big businesses currently, who knows where it will go next?
For SME’s the main areas of concern are usually:
Waste; is it properly segregated, can you prove where it’s gone?
Energy; have you invested in modern technologies to reduce your requirements? Most pay for themselves fairly quickly.
Have you checked your water systems to reduce waste?
Can you reduce the carbon footprint of your products and services? Being able to show you are improving the sustainability of your business is a very valuable marketing tool.
And the all-important point, make sure you measure and record the improvements you make, you never know when being able to prove what you’ve done will be of value!
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