Environmental Advice for Businesses

Every business, regardless of size or industry, can benefit from reducing their carbon footprint. As the scope of environmental legislation increases, it’s becoming more and more important to start making changes. But it’s not all about profits and law; there are other more important reasons why we should all strive to make a difference.

UK offices generate over £15 billion worth of waste, which accounts for roughly 25% of the country’s total output. Recycling just one tonne of paper can save 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill and 4,000 kilowatts of energy. We have the technology and resources at our disposal to reduce our carbon footprint, yet many of us don’t utilise them.

Making environmental improvements can reduce expenditure, improve your company’s overall efficiency, and help your operation prosper. This guide has been designed to open your eyes and show you easy ways to cut down waste and start making a difference.

Environmental Legislation

The UK Government has proposed plans to reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline). Creating a low-carbon economy will eventually make the country less reliant on the import of fossil fuels, and thus, less-exposed to rising fuel prices.

To cope with the demand businesses must now abide by strict environmental legislations. Before you begin trading a risk assessment must be carried out as part of a review of your company’s environmental impact. This provides a good opportunity to discover where you could make changes.

Local Authorities

Your local authority will be responsible for setting certain environmental legislations. For example, if there is a dry spell in your area you may only be allowed to use limited quantities of water. The main environmental regulators in England and Wales are The Environment Agency. They will be able to put you in touch with the relevant governing body if you have any questions or concerns.

Waste Management

If you’d like to dispose of your own waste you must register as a waste carrier. Most companies, however, opt to enlist the services of a contractor, who will dispose waste in a registered site. If your company generates a large quantity of waste packaging, you may be required to register with a regulator and meet certain recycling targets. Extra controls may also be in place for seriously harmful substances.


You may have to apply for a permit if you produce a significant amount of air pollution. For example, if you burn waste in a boiler or furnace. In addition, your operation is never allowed to produce emissions that could cause harm to other nearby people or businesses, such as smoke, smells and noise.


In order to discharge a liquid waste into your local sewage system you must attain permission from your water company. Authorisation is required from your local environmental regulator if you’d like to discharge solid waste. If any substance from your premises contaminates land that you don’t own, you are responsible for cleaning it up and bringing the property back to good standing.

Image Credit (Creative Commons): Graham Richardson

Certain industries are more thoroughly regulated than others, such as those which import chemical substances and hazardous waste. To find out more visit the Environmental Regulations page at GOV.UK or contact the relevant trade association.

Waste Reduction

To sustain an environmentally friendly business waste reduction should be your primary priority. Fundamentally, the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to generate less in the first place. In studies conducted by Hackney Council the average business will save 4-5% of their annual turnover.

Reusable Packaging

Encourage suppliers to reuse the packaging used to protect their products, such as crates, cartons and pallets. If you’re a manufacturer, inform your clients of your new environmentally friendly efforts and make arrangements for the return of your shipping materials. In addition, buy your employees reusable food and beverage containers to reduce cafeteria waste, such as disposable plastic cups.

Invest in Quality

High-quality, long-lasting equipment may seem like a substantial investment; however, over time the costs will be justified as they’ll require fewer funds for maintenance, disposal and replacement. Better quality equipment could also streamline your business operation.

Heighten Efficiency

Most places of work have supplies and materials that could be far more efficient. For example, double-siding your copies will essentially half your paper consumption, and ordering less stock will result in less discarded products.

Eliminate Unnecessary Items

When you’re reviewing your company, eliminate items that contribute nothing or little to the operation. Sometimes removing certain materials, tools and supplies will force you to use other, more efficient alternatives.

Print Only When Necessary

In today’s digital world there is little need for paper, so try to use digital alternatives instead. If you must print, remove unnecessary headers to save ink and print on both sides of the paper. Embrace new technology. Cloud-based storage solutions are not only more efficient and safer for the environment, but offer a much higher level of security.

Turn Off Electronics

Turning off computers and lights when they’re not in use could save phenomenal amounts of electricity – up to 25% per year. Tell your employees to switch off their electronics when they’re not in use, rather than leaving them on or on standby.

Run Incentive Programs

Sometimes you’ll need to give your employees a bit of motivation to inspire them. Consider offering your workforce a reward for reduced emissions, or possibly giving them the savings as a bonus. While giving away the savings may seem counter productive if you’re trying to reduce expenditure, the extra morale boost could do wonders for your business operation.

Image Credit (Creative Commons): The Local People Photo Archive

Teach Your Customers

People like doing business with companies that are trying to make positive environmental changes. But don’t just tell your customers what steps you’re taking, try to encourage them to follow suit.

Waste that ends up in a landfill site will eventually decay and create a methane gas which is over 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Aside from the waste itself, the transportation costs also require the use of fossil fuels. By reducing your waste you will lessen the amount of climate-changing gasses that are harming the planet.

Recycling and Upcycling

Recycling rates in the UK are on the rise. As much as 62% of plastic packaging is now recycled, as well as 67% of paper. While these statistics may seem staggering and have surpassed the government’s initial targets, they’re simply not enough.

Recycling at work is just as easy as recycling at home. All offices should have a minimum of two bins; one for general waste and one for recycling. Helpful additions could include compost bins if there is a canteen and paper bins for copier rooms.

Water Dispensers

The water machine is one of the most wasteful areas of the office. Give all of your staff one reusable drinks bottle or cup. This will lead to huge savings over time.

Copier Rooms

Paper is without a doubt one of the biggest waste products in the average workplace, especially if you have a dedicated copier room. This area should be fully recyclable and have two bins; one for confidential information (with a nearby paper shredder) and the other for general paper waste.

Canteen or Restaurant

In a canteen or restaurant there should be three bins for waste segregation; general, compost and recycling. Place signs on the walls informing people what belongs in each of them.

Electrical Equipment

Electrical equipment, such as computers and hard drives, often contain sensitive information; therefore, it should be disposed of properly. If you need to get rid of anything of a sensitive nature, hire a specialist waste disposal company to ensure your data is deleted and that the physical drive is recycled.


Freecycling is the process of giving something away that you no longer need. It can be a great way to get rid of old furniture and computers without having to pay for disposal fees and will also reduce landfill waste. Visit The Freecycle Network for more information.

Image Credit (Creative Commons): Bob Doran

Upcycling is when you re-use materials that have been discarded and is a growing trend among green businesses. The process involves taking an otherwise worthless material and turning it into something that’s higher quality. Upcycling is inspiring an entirely new wave of entrepreneurialism, and helping those with limited funds to start new businesses in a cost effective and environmentally friendly manner.

Upcycling does require some creative and innovative thinking. Not everyone has the tools and knowledge to scour a junk yard and give old waste a functional purpose; however, it’s certainly worth trying if you want to make savings and feel like you could do more to reduce your carbon footprint.

Green Cleaning

Many industrial grade cleaning solutions contain environmentally harmful chemicals. Some can even cause health problems. For example, ammonia – which is commonly found in all-purpose cleaners – is a corrosive compound that can cause soil acidification if leaked into the environment.

The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA) states that cleaning products consume around six billion pounds of chemicals and 4.5 billion pounds of paper products each year. Buying recycled products or making your own natural cleaning solutions will help save precious resources.

Use Green Cleaning Solutions

The health and environmental implications of conventional cleaning products wasn’t thoroughly understood until recently. As society has become more aware of the dangers they possess, more and more green solutions are coming on the market, most of which use biodegradable chemicals. The good news for you is that you don’t have to break the bank in order to make changes as most green products are just as cheap as their more harmful counterparts.

Make Your Own Cleaning Solution

Even if you require large industrial quantities of cleaning solution, making your own isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound. Vinegar and baking soda can make a cleaning agent just as good as any other, and when it’s mixed with a little warm water, it’ll turn into an all-purpose cleaner suitable for virtually every spot of the workplace.

Stop Using Antibacterial Cleaners

The FDA has proved that antibacterial cleaners do not work any better than generic soap and water. In fact, they can be more harmful to your working environment, as using them can encourage the breeding of super-germs.

Stop Using Air Fresheners

You don’t need to spray air fresheners to mask a foul-smelling workplace. Try more natural solutions instead using fragrant flowers such as peace lilies. They will not only mask unpleasant smells, but will help improve indoor air quality.

Image Credit (Creative Commons): Siyavula Education

Dispose of Toxic Cleaners Properly

If you decide to replace your cleaning products, remember that the old containers are toxic for drains and landfills as well. Don’t clean them in the sink or put them in the bin, most recycling plants will have a specific place for them nowadays.

When changing your business’s cleaning habits, inform all of your staff and consider holding a training seminar to make them aware of potential hazards. Teaching them about the dangers of household cleaning products may also encourage them to take action in their personal lives as well.

Air Conditioning Systems

It’s not uncommon for air inside to be more toxic than air outside. Buildings are generally more air tight and insulated than ever before; therefore, exposure to toxic chemicals and gases is more contained. Ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can do wonders for your energy bills, staff health and carbon footprint. While they may seem like a substantial investment, they’ll eventually pay for themselves many times over.

Change Your Air Filter

Check your air filters at least once per month and change them completely every three months. Dirtier filters will slow down the flow of air, which means the system has to work harder to keep your workspace warm or cool. This will reduce your energy consumption and prevent dust and debris from building up and causing more serious damage.

Install a Programmable Thermostat

Installing a programmable thermostat will give you greater control with regards to room temperature. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) the optimum work temperature lies somewhere between 16 and 24 degrees – leaning more towards the latter in office environments. Having the right temperature in the workspace will boost productivity and ensure you get more out of your workforce. In addition, it gives you the flexibility to automatically programme your system to a less strenuous setting when everyone leaves.

Seal Your Ducts

The ducts that actually shift your air around are often the biggest energy wasters. Even just a small air leakage means that your system has to push harder. Sealing and insulating your ducts properly will reduce your air conditioning and heating bills by approximately 20% – sometimes even more.

Replace Old Equipment

If you have a HVAC system that’s currently 10 or more years old, it may need replacing or upgrading. ENERGY STAR qualified equipment can reduce your bills and emissions by hundreds of pounds each year. Hire a specialist to assess the quality of your system and what can be done to make it better. Sometimes all it takes is a simple minor upgrade to give it a whole new lease of life.

Image Credit (Creative Commons): Michael Casey

Conduct an Annual Tune Up

Just like any other piece of machinery, an annual tune up will do wonders for your company’s energy efficiency and running costs. Book an appointment with a HVAC specialist at least once per year to ensure everything is up to scratch.

Installing a HVAC system could be one of the most cost effective investments you could ever make. If you’re planning on taking this approach do not conduct the installation yourself unless you have professional experience. ENERGY STAR states that improper HVAC installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30%.

The Final Word

The Carbon Trust estimates that energy bills have doubled for businesses over the past ten years. Going green is as much about business survival as it is saving the environment. The technology to make a difference is already available – LED light bulbs that reduce bills and emissions by 74%; meters and thermostats that allow us to monitor our energy output; solar panels that can generate the majority of our hot water and electricity, etc. – sometimes we just need a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Our planet is already in a state of disrepair. The question that remains isn’t, “What can we do to fix the problem?” but “What can we do to stop making is worse?” Until we all work together and start actively trying to make positive changes, our planet will continue to suffer.

No change is too small. Even if you don’t have the excess funds to make huge changes around your workplace, don’t be afraid to start off slow and steady. The sooner you begin the better it’ll be for everyone.