The Environment is all around us and includes both the natural and built environment. Business operations can have direct impacts on its well-being and sustainability. Where possible business operators need to have a neutral or even better a positive impact on their surroundings. There are three essential players namely the institutions, businesses themselves and the broader population in this equation. There are many ways to achieve such positive impacts through for example incentives both fiscal and not, regulation and education.
Businesses appear to be somewhat more aware of their responsibility towards the environment. Businesses’ commitment towards the environment has been increasing in the last years. Companies’ efforts to carry out sustainable business depends a lot on the industry and nature of the company. After EU membership, areas such as waste management, air quality, energy and water management have become highly regulated by the EU.
Until a few years ago, most companies embarked on sustainable initiatives and investment for image and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reasons. However, companies are realising the serious potential for sustainable initiatives to improve a company’s financial bottom line. Therefore, Business Owners and Chief Financial Officers are recognising the potential gains resulting in increased commitment to sustainable business.
EU Environmental Legislation
The environment is an area which is highly regulated at EU level which means that in many cases you have no other option but to abide to the rules when for example disposing of certain types of waste.
European Environmental regulations concerning SMEs are based on three main instruments namely:
- Legislative – such as Directives on energy efficiency, waste management and Industrial emission’s
- Technical – such as life cycle assessment, environmental foot printing and environmental impact assessments (EIAs)
- Financial – the EU provides support mechanisms in the form of EU funded programmes such as Life, COSME and Horizon 2020.
The EU Environmental legislative areas include Soil, Air Quality, Chemicals, Energy, Greener Products, Environmental Management, Water, Waste and State Aid for Environmental Protection. The EU’s legislative instruments are based on 3 main principles namely:
- Polluter Pays – where a price of a good or service should include the cost of environmental damage that results from one’s operations or process ex. A tax on oil
- Proximity – where waste is disposed of as close as possible to the place where production is occurring or at the nearest waste disposal facility
- Precautionary – if it is known that an action will harm the Environment then companies will need to take precautionary action to diminish the impact.
For more information on the EU’s Environmental and Energy legislation kindly click on the links below:
For more information about EU funding assistance kindly view the following webpage
The relatively new concept of circular economy is taking hold at EU levels and Member States are tasked with implementing measures to ensure the proper implementation of the EU’s package in this respect. But before proceeding further, the reader might ask what is the circular economy? It is a system where production, consumption and trade are designed to minimise extraction of key resources such as fossil fuels, raw materials, water, land and diminishes the impact on the Environment and Health. It is essentially a slight shift from the linear economy which we got used to and focuses more on the reutilisation of raw materials amongst others. The diagram below shows how the two models differ from each other.
One has to take into consideration the fact that resource efficiency has become key in remaining competitive in an ever-globalised market. Since the year 2000, prices of metal and rubber have increased by over 200% due mainly to the increased demand for emerging markets such as China and India. This means that more companies will have problems in the future to source their materials which essentially puts companies in a position to take three options to:
1) Improve processes through for example process mapping and material flow analysis. (2) Improve the design which would push you into going beyond current processes and redesign products and systems by utilising for example eco design which takes into account consideration environmental factors besides material such as CO2 emissions, water pollution and waste generation. Eco design makes the reuse or recycling of the product easier once it reaches it end of life cycle (3) Lifecycle or supply chain analysis – is critical. If an operator identifies the weakest point in one’s supply chain than s/he is better positioned to change. Most SMEs do not know to what degree they are dependent on certain raw materials such as cobalt which are in critical supply due to over extraction. Therefore, knowing your materials will help you finding alternatives or substitutes such as recycled products, renewables instead of fossil fuels and synthetics instead of rare earth materials (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/jobs-growth-and-investment/towards-circular-economy_en).
Simple Tips to Become Green
Going Green does not necessarily mean that one has to change its operational structure. There are many online tools that can assist companies especially SMEs do their little bit. Below are 10 easy tips most SMEs could implement within their operations
- Remove personal bins and centralise waste and recycling systems. The best recycling systems start small and gradually expand over time. The best way to start is with paper especially in an office environment due to the fact that the bulk of the waste component originates from that waste stream
- Implement a switch off campaign for lights and office equipment.
- Purchase recycled paper and green office stationary. Potentially introduce green requirements in your procurement procedures.
- Ensure that cooling and heating systems are as much as possible optimally setup and where possible centralised and that they are all switched off in the evenings or over the weekends. The ideal temperatures are usually set between 20-22 degrees Celsius all year long.
- Incentivise car-pooling schemes amongst employees. Potentially encourage cycling or use of public transport by providing subsidies to employees and offering the right infrastructure such as cycling racks, showers etc.
- Setup a printer friendly email signature for all staff such as “Please consider the environment before printing this email” and encourage double sided printing, you can also implement default double sided printing. You can also install timers on printers to ensure shut down during out of office hours.
- Introduce water saving tools such tap and faucet aerators. You could also convert the toilets to a low flush toilet by putting a weight or a bottle with water in the flushing tank.
- Replace inefficient, high energy light bulbs (incandescent and halogen lights) with lower wattage, energy saving lights (such as compact fluorescent and LEDs)
- Optimise the use of natural light and ventilation within your buildings
- Last but not least engage a professional person who will be able to carry out an energy or water audit for your operations.
Malta Chamber's Energy and Environment Committee
The Malta Chamber has within its structures a purposely focused group known as the Energy and Environment Committee whose aim is that of assisting business community with issues related to these two themes. The Chamber’s committee organises periodical seminars on several themes and represents the organisation in lobbying and consultation efforts at local and EU level on environmental related matters. For more information on any of the subjects mentioned above you are kindly asked to contact the Chamber’s Policy Unit on (356) 21 233873.