Where do we start?
It’s a fairly common question that I’ve been asked over the years. What is the point of effectively managing environmental issues in a workplace? In other words ‘why should we bother?’ I have come across this viewpoint on many occasions. Usually when I’m either delivering a training course, or selling environmental consultancy services. I can remember delivering an environmental course in Leeds, just after the Xmas/New Year break when the weather outside was about -5°C. Just before the course started, I was setting up my computer and I could hear a couple of delegates talking about how environmental issues were basically a load of rubbish and they thought the upcoming course was pointless. Hearing this was like a red rag to a bull and I immediately made it my aim to change their opinions. We will see how I got on with these students later!
This is an attitude that I’m sure every environmental practitioner has at some point, or soon will experience. We must not get too worked up by this attitude. It is our role as environmental professionals to try to change that person’s point of view in a calm and collected way, not start arguing. In this post then I thought it might be a good idea to look at some of the key reasons why environmental issues are key for businesses. To be honest there are so many I doubt we will get anywhere near covering them all!
Money is obviously a key issue in every business, so how does effective environmental management benefit the bottom line? Well, in many ways, improvements that are good environmentally tend to result in cost savings. For example if we implement a scheme to reduce our carbon footprint then this will in most cases involve reducing energy consumption so an organisation saves money on their energy bills (and any carbon taxes associated with this such as the Climate Change Levy). This is true for other resource efficiency schemes such as cutting waste and raw material usage.
Probably the main reason I’ve come across over the year as to why clients need consultancy assistance in implementing a formal ISO 14001 environmental management system is that their customers expect them to have one. Customers, whether other businesses, or the general public want businesses to behave in the correct way. If you do not meet this standard then customers will march with their feet and buy someone else’s product or service.
Legal compliance is another big issue. Compared to when I first started, there is now, in the UK at least, a whole raft of environmental legislation. What applies to an organisation obviously varies depending on their activities, but common environmental laws include the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. If you don’t comply with these rules then you could be prosecuted and end up paying a large fine, plus all the extra costs associated with non compliance such as legal fees which often add up to much more than the fine! It will also impact upon your organisations corporate image. I quiet often find law is a good one to get directors interested!
A reason that I think is sometimes forgotten about but is highly important is the views of employees. I think most people want to work for a company that is progressive and forward thinking. part of this is that the organisation does its best to effectively control environmental problems. Although less tangible and harder to measure than some of the reasons in this post it is likely to improve the recruitment and retention of employees.
There are many other reasons as well, we have literally covered the tip of the iceberg in this post!
A happy ending?
Oh yes, and what happened to the two delegates for the course in Leeds? Like any good film, there was a happy ending! After day 5 of the course one of them came up to me and mentioned that they really enjoyed the course and it was a real ‘eye opener’. Sometimes I think people have preconceived ideas about a subject and with increased knowledge they often come to change their opinion. Knowledge really is power.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.