Small businesses need better help to go green, a new report has found.
It said small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) should receive targeted guidance on how to become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly and not be treated like scaled-down versions of big business.
Mark Gold, chairman of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants' (ACCA) global forum for SMEs, said: "All too often, small business is overlooked when it comes to environmental and sustainability issues.
"But in terms of economic activity, employment and waste, small businesses make a huge impact and it is critical that they and those who advise and regulate them recognise this and begin to take steps to tackle waste, promote efficiency and ensure that sustainability is at the forefront of their thinking."
Small and medium sized businesses represent 98% of enterprises in Northern Ireland and 90% at global level. This translates to 50% of the gross domestic product and 63% of employment which makes a significant impact on industrial pollution.
However, they have been marginalised in the debate around sustainable business practices and have been slow to adopt environment-related improvements. Just 29% of SMEs in the European Union have introduced measures to save energy or raw materials (compared with 46% of large enterprises) and only 4% have a comprehensive energy efficiency system.
The report produced by the ACCA, which has more than 20,000 members and students across Ireland, urged policy makers, regulators and finance professionals to take action.
Gary McFarlane, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: "We recognise the significance of SMEs in terms of the contribution they make to the local economy yet often they are unnoticed, particularly in terms of reducing their environmental impacts. Equally, the kinds of schemes that are often accessible to larger businesses with the capacity and resources they possess are often beyond the reach of SMEs.
"There is a need to ensure that SMEs in Northern Ireland get the kind of professional, practical, and tailored support that they need to help them become more sustainable. Sustainability is not just good for the environment and the economy - it makes good business sense. We are keen to explore some ideas that we are developing in this area with SME owners as well as organisations such as ACCA."