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Department of Trade and Industry


Sustainable Development
Business Opportunities

Sustainable Business

Business Support

Sectoral Action

Environmental Protection
Key contacts


Sustainable development is an area of risk that - when managed effectively - can create opportunities to innovate, differentiate and enhance reputation and is becoming fundamental to long-term business success.

By addressing sustainable development issues, businesses of all sizes have found that they can have a significant impact, and at the same time meet - and sometimes exceed - their business objectives.

Business Case

The business-led Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment (ACBE) has developed a briefing paper for Directors - Value, Growth, Success: How Sustainable is your Business - to assist with the identification and prioritisation of sustainable development issues within companies.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) works to define the business case for sustainable development, and put that vision into practice.

It has identified eco-efficiency, corporate social responsibility and innovation as the main business contributions to sustainable development.

The WBCSD believes business can benefit from pursuing sustainable development in two basic ways - by driving cost efficiencies and by generating top-line growth through innovation and new markets.

Driving Down Costs

Waste minimisation, process optimisation and energy efficiency are good for business, as well as the environment. So too is moving from costly "end of pipe" fixes to managing environmental impacts in an integrated way.

Pollution and competitiveness
  • Pollution is normally a sign of poor technology and bad management eg waste or incomplete use of resources

  • Reducing pollution through better technology will almost always lower cost or raise product value/differentiation

  • This offsets (at least in part) the cost of compliance with environmental standards

  • But doing so requires innovation

    • new approaches to product design, production, distribution, service

  • Addressing environmental improvement without innovation eg via end of pipe waste treatment, clean-up or remediation - will inevitably raise cost and harm competitiveness

Source: Professor Michael E Porter, Harvard Business School. "Towards a New Conception of the Environment-Competitiveness Relationship" [Michael E Porter and Claas van der Linde: The Journal of Economic Perspectives 9] (1995)

Adopting best practice works and it can improve productivity and profitability significantly. The Government's Envirowise and Action Energy programmes provide practical help and advice to business on cost-savings measures. 

Management Systems

All businesses can benefit from minimising their environmental impacts in an structured way. Many use formal environmental management schemes such as ISO 14001 or the EU's Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS)

These formal systems can be implemented in a convenient step-by-step approach using the new British Standard BS8555 which includes environmental performance evaluation, and is especially suitable for smaller businesses. The step-by-step approach was successfully piloted in the DTI-funded Project Acorn.

The Sigma Project has developed practical guidance and tools for organisations to address economic, environmental and social impacts in an integrated way. It is supported by DTI and managed the British Standards Institution, the Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility and Forum for the Future.

More advice on standards and EMS's sources of help, useful links and the Governments position statement on Environmental Management Systems can be found on Defras website.

New Ways Of Doing Business

Innovation and new technology are pervasive in the modern economy. This is creating unprecedented opportunities to meet society's needs and aspirations with greatly reduced environmental impact.

This is not just about using cleaner and leaner technologies - although this will be important. It is also about new ideas and re-thinking business models to find smarter forms of production and consumption that use resources more productively.   

Improving the way goods and services are designed, made, delivered, used and disposed. Providing greater value, performance and choice for the consumer - as well as reducing environmental impacts.

Becoming a Leading Player

The Government's aim is for the UK to become a leading player in the new and growing markets for green energy and products, waste minimisation, recycling and re-use. 

It is supporting business through a range of activities including the following programmes:

Carbon Trust - Government backed but business led, it supports the development and adoption of low carbon technology

Renewable Energy - Supports high quality, innovative R&D projects that offer prospects for improving the performance and/or reducing the cost of energy derived from renewable sources

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)- Helps to create new markets for recycled materials and to promote the development and take-up of new recycling technologies

Enhancing Reputation

Increasingly, business is expected not only to provide reliable, competitively priced goods and services but also to play a responsible role in society and take environmental issues seriously. In a globalised world, people also want to feel sure that the businesses are acting in a sensitive and responsible way in developing countries as well as at home.

There have been a number of cases where companies have encountered significant public concern over their activities. Some have been over environmental issues, others over human rights, while some businesses have suffered as a result of working conditions in factories run by sub-contractors in developing countries.

Corporate social responsibility is about meeting public expectations while improving business performance. It can bring real business benefits by reducing risks, enhancing brand value, fostering customer loyalty and motivating staff.

To find out more visit the Government's Corporate Social Responsibility website.

Related Government sites

Action Energy

Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment (ACBE)

Carbon Trust

Cleaner Coal Technology Programme

Cleaner Vehicles

Climate Change Projects Office

Combined Heat and Power Quality Assurance Programme

Consumer Products and the Environment

Corporate Social Responsibility


Enhanced Capital Allowances (Energy)

Enhanced Capital Allowances (Water)

Environmental Industries Sector Unit

Environmental Industries Unit

Environmental Reporting


Green Claims Code

Low Carbon Innovation Programme

Market Transformation Programme

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises - UK National Contact Point


Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEP)

Technology Partnership Initiative

Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC)

UK Emissions Trading Scheme

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)

Related external sites

Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS)

Energy Saving Trust

Ethical Trading Initiative

ISO 14001

Landfill Tax Credit Scheme

Sigma Project

Sustainable Workplace

World Business Council on Sustainable Development


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