Lack of direction
The Institute of Directors has done a survey of its members' environmental policies and their awareness of new legislation. The results are of some concern, according to Geraint Day
The European Commission has stated that 70% or more of environmental legislation affecting the UK emanates from decisions taken by the European Union.
One side of the coin means more bugbears for business. Yet the other side can mean opportunities for developing new products and services to help business cope with the environmental issues of the moment and of the future.
The Institute of Directors (IoD) recently conducted a survey of its members' environmental policies and their awareness of recently introduced legislation such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Needless to say, the results were of some concern.
Only 29% of respondents said that their organisation had in place a strategy to increase energy or resource efficiency. On average only a quarter of all boards receive regular reports on energy use, recycling and waste management. Water use was even worse with only 14% of boardrooms ever discussing the issue. The situation improved somewhat when directors were asked about policies. An impressive 76% said their company had a policy on recycling, and 58% knew about a waste management policy within their organisation.
Then we came to the real heart of the matter - awareness of environmental regulations. A common complaint from our members is the difficulty of keeping abreast of the latest rule changes. More than 70% admitted to effectively being in the dark. Only 29% knew "a great deal" or "quite a bit" about environmental rules. Of course, given that more than 70% of IoD members are involved in the services sector, it might be unreasonable to expect them to demonstrate a strong grasp of rules relating to, for example, waste management or air quality.
However, the members involved in sectors such as construction, mining, transport or manufacturing are heavily exposed to these issues, so their relatively low levels of awareness should be a significant cause for concern.
Astonishingly, 59% of members in manufacturing knew "not much" or less, while for construction, mining and transport, the figure was 52%.
The Government has come under heavy pressure from the European Commission over its failure to transpose the WEEE Directive into UK law by the August 2005 deadline. Following industry criticism of the arrangements, the DTI announced in December that implementation would be further delayed pending a review.
The responses from members on the WEEE Directive demonstrate that business is still not sufficiently briefed on this overdue legislation - a fact implicitly recognised by the Government's repeated postponements of the implementation date. Only 24% of all respondents knew "a great deal" or "quite a bit".
Perhaps the most disappointing results were on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. This legislation, which will affect virtually every place of work in the UK eventually start being phased in from April, yet 61% of IoD members knew either "nothing" or "hardly anything" about it. Clearly the Government and its agencies face a major communications task on this front.
It is all very well passing new and well meaning laws but, when small businesses are expected to implement complex rules and guidelines, they need strong and clear advice from the civil servants and policy-makers who negotiated this stuff in the first place.
The vast majority of businesses do not want to shy away from their environmental obligations. On the contrary, they are fully aware of the role they can play on major issues, such as climate change.
Geraint Day is Head of Environment Policy at the Institute of Directors. Visit www.iod.com/policy