Environmental management has become increasingly important over recent years as the volume of environmental legislation and regulations increases. All businesses, from offices and shops to businesses in sectors like agriculture and chemicals, have legal environmental obligations that they must meet.
A risk assessment should be carried out as part of an overall review of your environmental impact. It’s also an opportunity to spot ways to improve your environmental performance generally, to reduce energy costs and unnecessary waste.
Local authorities are responsible for some environmental regulation, particularly for lower-risk businesses such as offices and shops. The main environmental regulators are the Environment Agency (in England and Wales), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment and Heritage Service (in Northern Ireland).
If your business is sited next to a designated protected area, there may be restrictions on some of your activities. You can find out what restrictions may apply and use a search to check if your business is next to a designated or protected area on the GOV.UK website.
You must minimise your packaging and only use packaging that meets environmental standards and can be recovered or reused. Larger packaging producers will need to register with their environmental regulator and meet recycling and recovery targets.
You must store and dispose of waste properly. If you transport waste generated by your own business activities you must register as a waste carrier. This costs nothing and registration lasts indefinitely. Alternatively, use a waste-disposal contractor who is authorised to treat and handle your kind of waste, and disposes of it at a site that has a permit for that kind of waste.
There are extra controls on some special kinds of waste, such as hazardous waste, and on the storage of potentially harmful substances such as chemicals. The Government has produced guidance for small businesses that produce, transport, receive, deal or broker waste.
You may need an environmental permit if your activities produce significant air pollution or you burn waste: for example, you have a boiler or furnace. You should ensure you do not produce emissions that cause a nuisance to your neighbours, eg smoke, dust, smells or noise.
You must have consent from your water company to discharge any trade effluent – any liquid waste other than clean water and ordinary domestic sewage – into their sewers. You must have authorisation from your environmental regulator before discharging trade effluent or solid waste into surface waters or groundwater.
You must also prevent accidental contamination of groundwater with harmful contaminants: for example, if rainwater running over your premises becomes contaminated. You are responsible for cleaning up any land you contaminate.
Some industry sectors are specially regulated. You can find guidance by sector on the GOV.UK website or from your trade association. Other organisations you belong to may offer industry-specific guidance.
Under the REACH regulations, manufacturers and importers of hazardous substances typically need to register with the European Chemicals and Health Agency and comply with any restrictions imposed by their regulator, and to provide users with instructions on how to use their products safely.
Check whether there are any other environmental obligations for your business. For example, appliance manufacturers must provide energy efficiency labelling. Producers or users of significant amounts of dangerous substances must notify the regulator, carry out a risk assessment and produce a major accident plan.