The recession is taking its toll on business investment in environmental improvements, according to a new government survey.
The biennial SME-nvironment survey of 7,000 UK Small and Medium-sized Enterprises found the majority unwilling to invest in greener performance in the current economic climate.
The 2009 UK report said: "A new question this year was asked to measure attitude during the current recession.
"The results found that 80 per cent of businesses would be 'very unlikely' or 'quite unlikely' to spend money on improving their environmental performance within the next twelve months and businesses in England were most likely to consider environmental investment 'very unlikely' over the next year (45 per cent)."
NetRegs, a government body giving free environmental guidance to SMEs surveys their environmental performance every two years.
It produces individual reports for each UK country.
The survey found many businesses have moved to reduce their environmental impact but that this is largely to cut business costs rather than as part of an overall environmental policy.
It found just a fifth of companies have such a policy in place.
Northern Ireland environment minister Edwin Poots warned businesses against ignoring their environmental obligations.
He said: "It is worth noting that government and many companies in the supply chain now include specific environmental questions in their tender forms.
"By building measures into your business plan, training your staff and taking an environmentally responsible stance throughout your business, you will reap the rewards of winning more work and saving money. You will also comply with the law."
But overall small businesses in Northern Ireland are blazing a trail with their environmental performance, the survey found.
They lead the way in improving their energy and water efficiency, which have doubled in just two years - higher than anywhere else in the UK.
More than half (56 per cent) now have measures in place to reduce the harm they do to the environment, according to the survey.
Some 85 per cent are recycling their waste, up from 73 per cent in 2007 - the highest figure for any UK country.
Meanwhile, a third made energy efficiency or water reduction improvements.
"This is evidence that our local small businesses, many of whom fall within the independent retail sector, continue to act as role models for good environmental business practice," said Mr Poots, speaking after a meeting with the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association last Thursday.
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