SMEs getting 'green' message
Northern Ireland's small businesses are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment, according to a major new report.
Environmental guidance website Net Regs.gov.uk found 84% more small businesses and medium-sized enterprises in the province - 46% of them - are now implementing practical environmental measures compared to two years ago.
However, its SME environment survey also reveals that just 35% have an environmental policy in place, compared to a UK average of 40%.
NetRegs, a partnership between the Environment Agency (England and Wales), Environment & Heritage Service (Northern Ireland) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said there was a 55% increase in the number of small businesses across the UK implementing practical environmental measures in the last two years.
But it said 44% of Northern Ireland SMEs questioned were found to take part in activities that can harm the environment, from storing chemicals and waste to emitting smoke or fumes to the air.
And just one in ten realised their activities can be harmful.
NetRegs said that as all businesses will need to review their waste disposal methods under new landfill regulations, it will become more important than ever that SMEs get guidance.
Dr Sara McGuckin, principal policy adviser with the Environment & Heritage Service here, said: "We want to respond to the growing concerns of small and medium businesses and help them protect the environment."
EHS said 113 businesses here were prosecuted for breaching environmental laws last year, incurring £350,000 in fines.
It noted that with 99% of businesses in Northern Ireland comprising of under 250 employees, the figures suggest that many small businesses are being hit financially for a lack of environmental awareness.
NetRegs - which provides free guidance to SMEs on how to comply with environmental legislation - found 46% of smaller businesses in Northern Ireland have introduced practical measures to reduce their environmental harm, including recycling, energy efficiency improvements or appointing a member of staff responsible for environmental issues.
Its research also revealed that companies employing more than 50 staff were more willing to receive guidance from environmental regulators and that the internet was their preferred way to receive support.