Many businesses ‘don’t understand’ environmental challenges, report says

Businesses have been urged to treat the environment as a higher priority, following a survey of UK companies.

Environmental issues are the second biggest material issue for UK businesses, ranking below health and wellbeing, the responsible business charity Business in the Community has found – and they say more must be done.

Only 37% of UK businesses named a circular economy, net zero carbon, or healthy ecosystems as one of their top two highest priorities, compared to 52% for health and wellbeing.

The results came from findings from BITC’s Responsible Business Tracker, the largest measure of responsible business in the UK with 64 companies participating across 24 sectors.

Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at Business in the Community, said: ‘These results demonstrate that many businesses still do not fully understand the existential risks presented by the environmental challenges we face – both to the survival of their businesses and to whether we hand on a planet that enables our children to thrive.

‘They also highlight just how much remains to be done to shine the light on and to take advantage of the huge opportunities that responding to environmental challenges bring to innovate and create new products, services and other business opportunities.’

The Responsible Business Tracker found that 22% of participants named net zero carbon as a top two high business priority issue, 13% selected circular economy and 2% chose healthy ecosystems, leading to a total of 37% choosing environmental issues.

Meanwhile, 44% of businesses reported carrying out environmental lifecycle assessments for all or some of their products and services to understand their impact and inform their strategy.

Launched earlier this year, the Responsible Business Tracker is not yet statistically representative of all UK business, but BITC says it does indicate emerging trends which can be explored further once more businesses participate.

The companies the Responsible Business Tracker currently represents have a combined turnover of approximately over £105bn and collectively employ over one million people.

Amanda MacKenzie, chief executive of BITC, said the tracker helps to showcase the positive impact companies are having so other companies can follow.

However, she added that it will also deter ‘purpose-washing’ where businesses make promises to improve their environmental performance but do not act upon them.

‘Health and wellbeing comes top of the list of priorities for business, and while environmental issues come second, the gap is too big and more must be done, quicker,’ MacKenzie said.

Over 100 companies in the UK have already committed to tackling climate change by signing BITC’s Waste to Wealth Commitment.

Companies who have signed the commitment have pledged to work together to double the UK’s resource productivity and eliminate avoidable waste by 2030.

Writing for Environment Journal recently, Nick Oettinger, founder of The Furniture Recycling Group, discussed the importance of implementing Extended Producer Responsibility schemes across all industries to help businesses move towards a circular economy.

Chris Ogden

Chris Ogden

Digital News Reporter

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