Environmental regulations: compliance isn't optional

By: David Isted

Date: 30 October 2018

Environmental regulations: compliance isn't optionalThe environment is a hot political topic. Regardless of the location or industry, there is always an ongoing dialogue around sustainability and implementing more eco-friendly business practices.

For example, in November 2017, the European Commission published a proposal requiring car manufacturers to cut vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030. Similarly, legal action was taken against a coking plant in Poland in 2017 after reports of emissions damaging the health of local residents.

However, while the environment has been high on the regulatory agenda over the last few decades, compliance with regulations remains low. As Mindy Lubber, chief executive and president of Ceres, pointed out, regional differences make it tough for businesses to meet standards across the board.

"It's easier for companies to have one set of rules, and you have to go to the highest one, otherwise you'll be out of compliance somewhere," Lubber told the Financial Times in 2017.

Failure to comply can cost you more than money

With the UK on the brink of leaving the European Union (EU), things could soon become even more complicated for multinationals, or for those simply looking to trade in Europe. In practice, the British government is likely to remain on par with the EU in terms of environment protection law. However, there may be some deviations that business owners will need to be aware of.

Regardless of how the legal landscape may change in the future, compliance within the UK is crucial, whichever industry you operate in.

In 1990, the Environmental Protection Act was introduced. This imposed obligations on UK businesses to dispose of waste in a responsible manner, and protect against potential contamination and pollution caused by their activities.

In addition, a number of EU regulations govern areas such as emissions, hazardous waste, wildlife preservation and overall business environmental impact. Failure to meet the standards required can result in fines and/or prison terms.

For cases referred to lower courts, the maximum fine is £50,000 and six months in prison, while more severe offences can lead to unlimited fines and up to five years' imprisonment.

What sustainability means in your industry

Although each industry has its own operational standards, all businesses need to comply with relevant environmental protection laws. Obvious examples are the manufacturing and automotive industry. However, even companies that may not appear to have much impact on the environment have to meet certain regulations.

For example, the printing industry comes under scrutiny in a variety of areas. For businesses that practise eco-conscious printing, sustainability is the main area of focus. Investing in environmentally-friendly paper is important, as are efforts to replant trees.

Beyond that, refining the printing process to cut down on wasted ink and its subsequent disposal is also important. Finally, operational considerations have to be made. As with all businesses, those in printing have a carbon footprint that impacts their environmental score. Therefore, finding ways to offer carbon-neutral shipping has become significant over the last ten years.

One of the ways printing firms are working to stay in line with regulations is to lean on organisations such as the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF). As well as updates on environmental legislation that affects the industry, members can enlist third-party agencies to test their environmental credentials and provide them with eco-friendly solutions.

Staying up to date with environmental laws

Although printing may not be your industry, the dynamics are the same. In order to comply, you need to understand the processes integral to your business, how they may impact the environment, and the laws that govern these areas.

Taking advice from an industry body like the BPIF is, perhaps, the easiest way to ensure compliance in all areas. However, it's important to recognise that laws change with time and location. Staying up to date with the latest developments both at home and abroad is crucial if you're looking to avoid a fine.

If possible, enlisting the services of an environmental lawyer is preferable. However, if that's not cost-effective, trade organisations may be able to help.

Keeping in touch with the latest political developments is important too. As the UK transitions away from the EU, noting any cross-border differences is vital.

Environmental laws will continue to have a major impact on the business world. In fact, as pressure from global bodies such as the G8 intensifies, businesses of all sizes will be required to put more resources into sustainability and protection.

To avoid falling foul of the law, it's important to remember that environmental compliance is in no way optional.

Copyright 2018. Article was written by David Isted (a freelance writer).