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Sustainable business and resource efficiency

All businesses can save money by using resources such as water, energy and raw materials more efficiently. Forward-thinking companies are already seeing the opportunities and the benefits sustainability can offer. It is estimated 2% of UK business profits per year may be lost through inefficient use of resources. UK businesses could save in excess of £6.4 billion per year by making simple changes to use resources more efficiently and help protect the environment and natural environment.

Making processes more sustainable can improve businesses’ bottom line by driving down costs, opening up new markets through innovation, and enhancing reputations and brand value. Businesses that don’t use resources more efficiently will miss out on potential commercial opportunities and will lose out as prices for scarce commodities rise.

In 2008/09, low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) were worth £112 billion, and employed around 910,000 in the UK and were worth £3.2 trillion globally. This is projected to rise to £4 trillion by the middle of the next decade.

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What can you do as a business?

Businesses can reduce the impact of their products and services on the environment from the processes of:

  • design
  • materials use
  • packaging
  • delivery
  • marketing
  • disposal and
  • reuse

Business Link offers free advice and support to businesses on environment and efficiency issues, and identifies relevant grant schemes. Business Link’s top 10 tips for reducing waste and saving energy provides general advice on the first steps to save energy and reduce costs in a business.

What is Defra doing to help businesses?

Defra is working with business organisations and partners on a number of projects to develop key tools, policies and related guidance for use by  businesses and the public sector that encourage sustainable consumption and production.

Defra leads on the development of policies to encourage sustainable public purchasing, in particular Government Buying Standards, which suppliers will increasingly need to follow when providing goods to the public sector.

Promoting resource efficiency

Defra funds the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to provide advice and support to businesses, local authorities, civil society organisations, households and government departments based in England on how to become more resource efficient (in their use of raw materials, water and energy). This funding is provided under a policy steer to WRAP setting Defra’s objectives in the areas of waste management and material resource efficiency.

For more information on material resource efficiency and how you can reduce the environmental impact of your business visit the WRAP website or contact the helpline on 0808 100 2040.

WRAP’s website also lists its targets and latest results in reducing emissions, waste to landfill and the resulting economic benefits.

WRAP’s work in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is separately funded by the Devolved Authorities in their respective jurisdictions.

Corporate reporting

Defra provides guidance for businesses to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions, which can help reduce emissions and cut costs.

If you are interested in measuring and reporting your greenhouse gas emissions, or other environmental impacts, you can download a range of information including: copies of the guidance, reports, annually updated emission factors, and other environmental reporting guidelines.

The guidance arises from the Climate Change Act, which also required government to lay a report before Parliament on the contribution reporting makes to the UK meeting its climate change objectives.

This guidance complements tools such as the PAS2050 methodology for assessing the carbon footprint of products.

Environmental Management Systems

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a structured framework that can be produced by any business or organisation, in the public or private sector, to help them manage and reduce their environmental impacts, comply with legislation and promote their management of environmental risks and liabilities responsibly.

There are several categories of EMS suited to different organisations, but Defra recommends three that are accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS), namely:

ISO 14001, the international standard for EMSs, which specifies the features and requirements necessary to help organisations systematically identify, evaluate, manage and improve the environmental impacts of their activities, products and services. In the UK this is currently the most widely used EMS standard;

The EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) a voluntary initiative underpinned by EU Council Regulation, which seeks to recognise and reward those organisations that go beyond minimum legal compliance and continuously improve their environmental performance. The Institute for Environmental Management Assessment (IEMA) is the Competent Body for registering organizations to EMAS in the UK;

BS 8555 – the British Standard, breaks down the implementation process for ISO14001 or EMAS into six stages making implementation easier especially for smaller organisations. Note – IEMA has developed the Acorn Inspection Scheme which enables companies to gain accredited inspection and recognition for their achievements at each step as they work towards ISO 14001 or EMAS. Acorn is particularly suited to small and medium sized businesses.

Accredited Environmental Awards

Defra funds the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) Environmental Awards Forum to accredit other organisations’ environmental award schemes. This aims to ensure high standards of the range of environmental awards schemes.

The Forum also manages the participation of winners of UK business awards in the European Business Awards for the Environment.


Europe is confronted with urgent environmental challenges such as climate change, the unsustainable use of resources and loss of biodiversity. Environmental technologies and eco-innovations have a role to play in addressing these challenges and, at the same time, could contribute positively to EU competitiveness and growth.

Defra is working with other departments, particularly BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) and DECC (Department for Energy and Climate Change), to ensure that there is a clear, consistent policy framework, both at UK and European level, to encourage eco-innovation.

Page last modified: 7 March 2011