- Part 1 Overview
- Part 2 Comply with environmental legislation
- Part 3 Does my business need a permit or licence?
- Part 4 Hazardous substances covered by environmental legislation
- Part 5 Conservation and biodiversity issues for businesses
- Part 6 Environmental issues in specific business sectors
- Part 7 Who enforces environmental legislation?
- Part 8 Prevent and remedy pollution incidents
- Part 9 The business benefits of good environmental and sustainable practices
You have a legal responsibility for the impact your business has on the environment. Depending on the nature of your business, you may also need a permit or licence for your activities
Going beyond environmental compliance can bring business benefits. Many businesses have realised that acting in a socially and environmentally responsible way is more than just a legal duty. It affects your bottom line and the long-term success of your business.
This guide outlines your main environmental responsibilities. It also explains where you can find more detailed information and help on environmental issues and sustainable development.
Comply with environmental legislation
There is a range of environmental rules your business may have to follow:
- Comply with legislation regarding emissions into the air.
- Store waste safely and securely, make sure it is treated appropriately, ensure it is collected by an authorised organisation (such as your local authority or a licensed private waste contractor) and complete a waste transfer note or consignment note when waste is handed over.
- Ensure you do not cause a statutory nuisance which could affect someone's health or annoy your neighbours. This covers things like producing noise, smoke, fumes, gases, dust, odour, light pollution or accumulating rubbish.
- Get permission from your water company before you allow trade effluent such as waste chemicals, detergents, cooling or cleaning water to enter the sewerage system.
- Register with the National Packaging Waste Database, or join an approved compliance scheme if you handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging and have a turnover of more than £2 million. You must then provide evidence that you're recovering and recycling a set amount of packaging waste.
- Make sure that you comply with restrictions on the storage and use of hazardous substances. Ensure that any hazardous waste your business produces is correctly classified and described, and is either disposed of or recovered at an appropriately authorised facility.
- Notify the relevant enforcing authority and take steps to prevent the damage if your business activities pose an imminent threat to the environment. If your business activities cause actual environmental damage, you must take remedial action to repair the damage.
There are also specific environmental rules covering a wide range of businesses - from construction and electronics to textiles and chemicals manufacture. You can check what environmental legislation applies to your business on the NetRegs website.
Does my business need a permit or licence?
You may require a permit or licence if your business poses certain types of environmental risk. For example if your business:
- collects or transports waste on behalf of others, or transports your own construction or demolition waste, you must register as a waste carrier with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
- carries out waste activities such as treating, storing or disposing of other people's waste, you may need a waste management licence or an exemption from your environmental regulator
- carries out industrial, waste or intensive agricultural activities, or uses hazardous substances such as solvents, you may need a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit from your local authority or environmental regulator
- allows anything other than clean, uncontaminated water from your premises into watercourses or surface water drains, you must have a discharge consent from your environmental regulator
- discharges trade effluent into the sewerage system, you must get consent from your water company or water authority
- takes water from surface water or groundwater, ie not from the mains supply, you may need an abstraction licence from your environmental regulator
You can contact SEPA on Tel 01786 457 700.
Hazardous substances covered by environmental legislation
Specific environmental rules cover potentially dangerous substances. Every business needs to think about the risks to people or the environment posed by chemicals or substances classified as hazardous to health under the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP).
Hazardous substances are tightly regulated. They include:
- animal by-products
- ozone-depleting substances (ODS)
- pesticides and biocides
- radioactive materials
- hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment
You must consider the environmental risks for every hazardous substance you store, use, produce or dispose of at work. You must ensure you control any potential risks and comply with legislation when storing goods and materials.
The CHIP Regulations have been amended to bring them into line with regulations in force in the European Union. The aim is to eventually introduce a globally recognised system for the classification and labelling of hazardous chemicals - at which point the CHIP Regulations will be repealed.
If you manufacture, use, import or recover from waste materials any chemicals, you may have to comply with the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Regulations. Businesses manufacturing, recovering or importing any chemicals over 1 tonne per year must ensure those chemicals have been pre-registered or registered in full.
If you manufacture electrical and electronic equipment you must comply with the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2008 (RoHS). Under RoHS, manufacturers are prevented from placing products on the market with more than a certain amount of hazardous substances such as lead, mercury and cadmium.
If you work with equipment containing ODS or fluorinated gases - including air conditioning and refrigeration equipment - there are requirements that you must meet regarding:
- containment including prevention and repair of leaks, checking for leakages and record keeping
- recovery for the purpose of recycling, reclamation or destruction
- training and certification
Regulated work includes the disposal, maintenance, servicing and dismantling of refrigerators, freezers, air-conditioning equipment and heat pumps and the decommissioning of fire protection equipment and extinguishers.
Conservation and biodiversity issues for businesses
Biodiversity refers to all species of plants and animals, including any genetic variations within those species, and the complex ecosystems they live in.
The world is losing biodiversity at an ever-increasing rate as a result of human activity. All types of business operating near protected areas should be aware of their responsibilities for conservation and protecting biodiversity. This doesn't just apply to land-based industries such as forestry or farming, but to all offices, factories and other business activities based on or near these areas.
The business benefits of conserving biodiversity include:
- a competitive advantage - businesses that can demonstrate that they are committed to environmental protection will attract and retain customers, suppliers and employees who share those values
- compliance with environmental legislation
- environmental reporting - your business will be able to report on its environmental performance and management
Protected areas include:
- Local nature reserves - places with wildlife or geological features that are of special interest locally.
- National scenic areas - areas of particular natural beauty in need of conservation.
- National parks - tracts of the countryside that have been given protection for the conservation and enhancement of their special qualities.
- National nature reserves - important areas of wildlife habitat.
- Sites of special scientific interest - good examples of natural heritage of wildlife habitats, geological features and landforms.
- Special areas of conservation - strictly protected sites for habitat types and species that are considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level.
- Special protection areas - strictly protected sites classified for rare and vulnerable birds.
- UNESCO biospheres - areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems which are internationally recognised under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere programme.
To find out whether you operate on or near a protected area, you can call the SNH Enquiry Line on Tel 01463 725 000.
Environmental issues in specific business sectors
Different types of businesses face their own particular environmental issues. For example, factory processes may use large amounts of energy or involve hazardous substances, while office-based practices are more concerned with reducing energy and water waste. Transport businesses may use large amounts of fuel and create significant vehicle emissions.
Whatever sector you are in, it's a good idea to seek advice on the major issues. You can check what environmental legislation applies to your business on the NetRegs website.
A good first step is to conduct an environmental review of your business. This will help you to identify what you need to do to comply with the law and how you could minimise waste, emissions, energy usage and your impact on the environment.
If you would like more specialist advice, you may need to engage an environmental consultant. In certain business sectors, such as quarrying, engineering and chemicals, consultants are regularly used. An environmental consultant can give specific advice about your environmental responsibilities, including insurance and business development plans.
Who enforces environmental legislation?
There are three main environmental regulators in the UK:
- the Environment Agency inEngland and Wales
- the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
- the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
The environmental regulators in Scotland and Northern Ireland have produced the NetRegs website, which provides free environmental guidance.
Your local authority is also responsible for regulating some environmental issues such as:
- air quality
- statutory nuisance problems such as air pollution, noise, odour and light pollution
- land contamination
- environmental health
Prevent and remedy pollution incidents
Every year there are thousands of cases of damage to the environment. The Environmental Liability Regulations relate to the most serious cases, covering:
- damage to species and habitats
- damage to water
- risks to human health from contamination of land
The regulations apply to both actual cases of damage and threats of imminent damage. If you are responsible - ie you are the 'operator' of the activity that causes or threatens the damage - you must take immediate action to prevent or remedy this.
Reporting an incident
You should call the SEPA Pollution Hotline on Tel 0800 80 70 60 to report incidents such as:
- damage or danger to the natural environment
- pollution to water or land
- poaching or illegal fishing
- fish in distress or dead fish
- watercourse blocked by a vehicle or fallen tree causing risk of flooding
- illegal dumping of special (hazardous) waste or large amounts of industrial waste
- incidents at waste sites regulated by SEPA
- illegal abstraction from watercourses
- unusual drops in river flow
- collapsed or badly damaged river or canal banks
You should report incidents such as gas leaks, burst water mains, or domestic odours, noise, waste or pest nuisances to your local authority or utility company.
The business benefits of good environmental and sustainable practices
Complying with legislation and going further to adopt environmental and sustainable practices can benefit your business. For example:
- Reducing your energy use can save you money.
- Reducing your use of raw materials can cut your costs, minimise your waste and lower your waste disposal bills.
- Reducing your water use can cut your water bills and also lower your waste water disposal costs.
- Recycling equipment and materials could make you money and save on disposal costs - you may be able to sell old equipment or parts to subsidise the cost of buying new ones.
- Taking steps to prevent environmental damage will reduce your risk of incurring costs and of having to carry out potentially expensive remedial work in the event of an environmental incident.
Your business could also enjoy other benefits. Many government organisations and large companies will only work with businesses who take their environmental responsibilities seriously. You may also find it easier to attract investment from banks and other sources of finance.
Sustainable development can create opportunities for your business. As well as making financial savings, you can enhance your reputation and brand value by fostering customer loyalty and motivating staff. You can also use sustainable development as an opportunity to encourage innovation, increase investment and open new markets.
Read our guide Environmental permits and licences for businesses.