The environment is the air we breathe, the water we drink and the ground we walk on.

The Environment Agency (EA) is working with business, government and society as a whole to make it cleaner and healthier so it is a better place to live both now and for the future.

Therefore, aptly titled A Better Place?, the recent publication by the EA is an overview of the state of the environment now and how it has changed since 2000.

The pamphlet is divided into a number of sections, each attributed to a different element of the environment.

In environmental terms, the majority of us enjoy a good life with a reasonable standard of living. However, that is not so for everyone, and we are all being challenged to acknowledge our social responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or socially responsible behaviour, is about the behaviour of companies and their contribution to sustainable development goals. It is how business goes beyond compliance with minimum legal standards to take account of its economic, social and environmental impacts in the way it operates.

Government has a role in setting appropriate minimum standards and in providing the right policy framework to boost socially and environmentally responsible performance beyond those minimum standards. But even Government departments cannot escape and, under the Framework for Sustainable Development on the Government Estate, targets are set under section one.

They say that, by 31 March 2006, each department “will draw up a strategy that sets out the way in which it will identify, assess and monitor significant social impacts that arise from the management of its land, buildings and operations”. It continues: “The strategy should also include procedures to ensure that proposals to significantly change the way in which land and buildings are managed take account of potential impacts on staff and local communities.”

And beyond this, what is your supply chain doing in this area – do they have a corporate social conscience or not?

The impact on the environment where we live is affected in many ways – air quality, proximity to industrial plants, noise and pollution. But not only that – there is the financial cost to both the individual and the business. For example, fly-tipping has increased, and rubbish is illegally dumped somewhere in England and Wales every 30 seconds – which costs local authorities almost £100 a minute to clean up.

But, apart from the cost, penalties of fines and imprisonment could remove part of your supply chain or reflect on your organisational reputation. Are you protected?

Local impacts

Many wildlife species are in decline. The causes include destruction or deterioration of habitats through urban development – construction of a new runway, a hospital, an office block or the infrastructure to meet their needs plus the ongoing pollution from such entities.

Although most people in Government may think this is only the responsibility of the MOD, the NHS or local authorities, let us not forget that we all impact on the environmental decay by our contribution to climate change. This has a major effect on the biodiversity of the planet – the life of which we all depend.

A quarter of our animals and plants are in decline: 4% have been lost forever. And more than 70% of UK marine fish stocks are below safe limits. So how can we help to stop this? We must work with our suppliers, particularly manufacturers, to ensure that they work safely and towards reducing emissions. Emissions of sulphur and nitrogen from industry (acid rain) still affect 13% of all land (or 75% of wildlife habitats) in England and Wales.

We must minimise every likelihood of causing pollution (as this can be a major contributor of damage to sea and river habitats) and we must have sound transport plans (to reduce the effects of climate change). Remember, a serious environmental pollution incident could cost more than the worth of a company, and so more than extinction of just wildlife.

Premature deaths

There can’t be anything wrong with the air, can there? We all breathe it and are still alive. But poor quality air is thought to contribute to between 12,000 and 24,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. During the 2003 heat wave, up to 800 people may have died from air pollution caused mainly by traffic.

Although air quality generally continues to improve, pollution from traffic, particularly in inner cities, is undermining the otherwise successful effort by industry. There are major opportunities here to influence this situation. There are many proclaimed options for commuting that include extended use of public transport, providing bicycle parking, car sharing schemes to home working. All to save the environmental impact and reduce stress levels to employees. Organisational initiatives include reducing travelled business miles, extending the use of telephone and video conferencing and type of fuel to power vehicles.

Remember, the Government has set a target to improve the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources, including by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012 and moving towards a 20% reduction by 2010.

Something in the water

It is not all bad news. About 80% of our bathing waters around the coastline now meet the toughest EU standards, compared with only 45% five years ago.

However, pollution from road surfaces and sewers means that less than half of our urban rivers are of good quality. After heavy storms in 2004, more than 600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage and storm water were washed into the River Thames. And some chemicals in water are having worrying effects. Hormones from the female contraceptive pill are changing the sex of male fish.

Apart from the impact of targets set in Part G of the Framework for Sustainable Development on the Government Estate, failure to review and monitor your suppliers could have devastating effects on the environment, loss of supply chain links and impact on reputation, mainly through pollution incidents.

OGC and are well versed in the provision of services to help departments meet their targets, for example’ Property and Construction Services Group provides a wide range of professional service framework agreements to central government and the wider public sector.

Have we become a throw-away society? Every year we produce 190 million tonnes of waste from households, industry and businesses in England and Wales. Over a quarter of this waste is sent to landfill. Recycling rates are increasing slowly but are still far too low. Potentially, well in excess of 25% of waste has some value.

All this means that, not only does waste cost money, but the opportunity to recoup a return is also lost. It also proves we live in a wasteful society, but even worse is our offhand attitude to the ramifications of this waste. This cavalier attitude is compounded by the quantity of legislation on waste, which seems to be disregarded by many.

Strong and efficient operational and procurement practices can have a remarkable impact on financial and environmental savings. Are you doing your bit, both within your organisation and with your supply chain?

Remember: there is a cost to waste. There is a cost to produce the waste, particularly if it has gone through a manufacturing process, and there is a cost to disposing of it through handling charges, licences and taxes (and fines if it is not done right).

Inefficient use of resources such as energy and water costs UK business up to £3 billion a year – for which we all pay.

There are great opportunities in all of this to work with each other and our supply chains to reduce waste and resource use, to look at new and better ways of doing things, encourage innovation and development of environmentally better products and services.

Work within the waste hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle (including composting), recovery (energy, heat and power) before landfill.

According to the EA: “Our health and wellbeing is inextricably linked to the quality of the air, water, land and wildlife that surround us. The EA’s role is to protect and enhance those resources for the benefit of us all.” Are you doing your bit?

Brian Millsom is the Environmental Impact Manager for OGC

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