Majority of SMEs say green policies undaunted by recession

Sixty-one percent of the small and medium enterprises responding to a recent survey by the Forum of Private Business say the recession has had no impact on their environmental policies, while the remainder are divided over whether the downturn has hobbled or spurred their green plans.

The Forum of Private Business, a 32-year-old organization representing more than 25,000 small businesses, released results on Friday of its survey of business owners on the group's Environmental Member Panel.

The findings were submitted to the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change, which as part of its Small Emitters Project is examining the role that small businesses play in meeting the U.K.'s carbon reduction commitments. The country has mandated a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut in GHGs by 2050.

According to the small business organization, 22 percent of the business owners on the group's Environmental Member Panel said that economic woes made them less likely to pursue environmental policies, while 17 percent said the situation makes them more likely to do so.

About a quarter of the panel members said they have not implemented environmental measures; 22 percent said they have formal programs in place; and 26 percent said they have informal policies at their companies.

Two-thirds of the respondents identified barriers to taking energy efficiency steps. The two chief obstacles cited were costs and a lack of incentives for renters to pay for improvements that also benefit landlords.

"When small businesses are considering implementing environmentally friendly policies, the will is certainly there but it is often thwarted by the perception of steep costs and a lack of information and support," said Matt Goodman, the organization's policy representative in a statement. "It is important to emphasize that measures to reduce carbon emissions can mean savings on the bottom line, but we also need a more joined-up approach from the government including a system of workable incentives that are rewarding rather than punitive."

The organization said that other challenges listed by respondents include problems involving planning, time, payback period, lack of of support, lack of information about technology, over-packaging of goods by suppliers, lack of knowledge about obtaining grants and related information, and issues with technology "not being advanced enough to be practical, such as light emitting diodes (LEDs) compared to standard light bulbs."

Of the environmentally proactive business owners among the respondents, 83 percent said they pursue green strategies because it is "the right thing to do." Other motivations listed were reputation, cited by 57 percent; saving money, 48 percent; makes "business sense," 48 percent; assistance in winning government contracts,13 percent; and aids in recruiting the right people, 13 percent. Only a few pointed to environmental regulations as a factor, the organization said.

Monitoring fuel bills was the most frequently mentioned measure taken to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions with 52 percent of the businesses responding saying that they did so. Other steps taken were upgrading commercial premises, 48 percent; investing in technology, 43 percent; reducing the use of resources, 39 percent; launching environmentally friendly products and services, 22 percent; and working directly with supply chain, 9 percent.

Respondents favored financial incentives when listing ways to prompt business owners into putting environmental measures into effect. Thirty percent want increased funding or more easily accessible grants, and 23 percent want swifter returns on investment or improvements to the bottom line. Sixteen percent seek clarification regarding bureaucracy and said they want one point of contact for environmental compliance and support. An unspecified amount also demanded greater emphasis on better resource management rather than monitoring carbon emissions.

According to the Forum of Private Business, respondents also said that using a "stick" approach to drive progress on combatting climate change -- strategies consisting mainly of taxation and excessive regulation without practical alternatives -- is unhelpful.

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