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  • Dionne Nichols

Getting Started in Environmental Management

Current Position

The information in this post provides insight into environmental protection and relevant legislative elements for businesses starting out in environmental management.

At the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, the importance of safeguarding our planet for the next generation was emphasized, particularly by cutting emissions and committing to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The UK will also host the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow on 31st October 2021.


Key goals include combating climate change, improving air quality, reducing waste and pollution, and becoming more energy efficient.


The following factors should be considered by organisations:

  • Direct effect on the surrounding environment - essentially pollution control issues.

  • Activities that disturb neighbours are often referred to as 'nuisance'.

  • The wider effect that activities have on global resources, such as power, raw materials and types and levels of waste - 'green' issues.

  • Legal sanctions arising from breaches of environmental legislation.

  • Financial loss where the 'polluter pays' principle is applied, requiring reparations to be made when pollution is caused.

  • Loss of reputation following negative publicity with potential consequential loss of business.

  • Loss of business as companies increasingly review the environmental credentials of their supply chain in awarding contracts.

  • Increased insurance premiums or restricted insurance cover following general pollution caused by leaks, spills etc.

Two guiding principles should be at the heart of environmental management thinking:


Sustainability - the maintenance of the factors and practices that contribute to the quality of the environment on a long-term basis.


The circular economy - an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs, the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions.


The aim of these principles is to keep products, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, improving the productivity of resources. Energy and waste materials should be reused in other processes, either as components or recovered resources for another industrial process or as regenerative resources for nature (e.g., compost). As a result, the traditional linear model of production is avoided.


In order to effectively meet these challenges, environmental managers need to take a systematically planned and systematic approach.


Legal Requirements

Over the last 40 or so years, EU law has come to form a large part of the law which applies in the UK, covering a range of different issues. An Environment Bill is currently being debated by parliament in light of the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January 2020. In addition to improving the quality of the air in the country, the project also wants to restore natural habitats and increase biodiversity. The bill describes the government's plans for reducing waste, making better use of resources, and improving the management of water resources in a changing climate.


Plans and policies will be presented to improve the natural environment; statements and reports will be presented on environmental protection, waste reduction, resource efficiency and air quality; recalls of products that do not meet environmental standards; information about water and nature; forestry and biodiversity; and chemical regulation.


The legislation will also create legally binding targets for improving the environment. In order to maintain environmental standards, a new Office for Environmental Protection will be established to review environmental laws and policies, conduct investigations and require proper enforcement against public authorities, as necessary. Under the new office, all climate change legislation will be covered, and the government will be held accountable for its net-zero emissions commitment by 2050.


UK Legislation


The main UK Directives involving environmental management issues cover:


Climate Change - The Climate Change Act 2008 created a new approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK.


Air Quality - Its objective is to achieve levels of air quality that do not result in unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.


Waste Management - A legal responsibility to ensure that you produce, store, transport and dispose of controlled waste without harming the environment.


Industry and Pollution - An integrated approach to controlling pollution to air, water and land, and aims to prevent and reduce harmful industrial emissions.


Energy Efficiency - The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme 2014 came into force in July 2014 and is designed to drive ‘large enterprises’ to consider how they can reduce the costs and consumption of their energy.


Key Actions

Develop an Environmental Management System


Like other management systems, such as those for quality and safety. An environmental management system (EMS) coordinates various aspects of a company's activities. In addition to identifying the business' strengths and weaknesses, this process helps identify and manage significant environmental impacts, increases productivity, ensures compliance with environmental legislation, and provides benchmarks for improvement.


It is important to actively involve senior management to identify and address the risk and opportunities associated with the EMS. Top management can authorise the necessary resources needed such as staff time and any initial budget.


The benefits of running an EMS include cost reduction, compliance with environmental legislation, better management of risk and significant marketing benefits.


Apply for any necessary permits:


Environmental/Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) permits - for example carrying out listed activities such as metal production, operating a landfill site or use of solvents. Applications via EA, SEPA, NIEA.


Waste management licences and exemptions - storing third party waste, treating waste or carrying out the recycling. An exemption may apply depending on how long waste is stored and the types and quantities of waste handled. Importantly, an exempt activity must be registered with the appropriate agency, either EA, SEPA or NIEA.


Discharge authorisations - for discharging to water or to land (including managing the risk of contaminated run-off polluting surface or groundwater). Authorisations via EA, SEPA, NIEA. Trade effluent consents and agreements - these are managed through water and sewerage companies. Trade effluent is any liquid discharge resulting from non-domestic or industrial activity. Applications via the local Water Company.


Water abstraction and impoundment authorisations - surface or groundwater are taken (abstracted) or stored (impounded) from any source may need authorisation. Authorisations via EA, SEPA, NIEA.


Waste carrier, broker and dealer registration - waste carriers transport waste as part of their business; brokers arrange for other businesses’ waste to be handled; and dealers use an agent to buy waste. There is a two-tier registration system for waste carriers (upper and lower). Registration via EA, SEPA, NIEA. See the Barbour Guide on Waste Management Legislation for more detailed information.


Radioactive substances certificates - required if you use or keep radioactive substances. Apply via EA, SEPA, NIEA.


Business owners can reduce their environmental impact and improve their efficiency by implementing an environmental management system and applying for necessary permits. It is crucial to emphasize that successful Environmental Management Systems are the ones that become embedded into a business. Obtaining an environmental management certificate proves to customers, suppliers, investors, and the general public that a company is committed to meeting its environmental responsibilities. Click here to learn more.