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UK small firms pay lip service to green issues

Government emphasis on voluntary environmental action is unlikely to have a significant effect on the environmental practices of SMEs, according to researchers at Kingston University who will present their findings at the Environment and Human Behaviour Programme seminar at the Policy Studies Institute in London on June 23 during ESRC's Social Science Week. The research concluded that small firms pay scant attention to energy saving and minimising waste.

'Most small firm owners do not accept the government line that going green is good for business," says Andrea Revell, who conducted the research with Professor Robert Blackburn at the Small Business Research Centre. 'The ecological footprint of SMEs is very significant,' she explains. 'They make up 99% of all enterprises, and 43% of private sector employment and are estimated to be responsible for 60% of industry's carbon dioxide emissions, 60% of commercial waste and eight out of ten pollution accidents.'

The research findings are based on interviews with 40 owner managers of small businesses in the construction and restaurant sectors in London and Leeds. The researchers also talked with twelve 'informants' within industry, government and academia.

The study revealed that market pressures tended to discourage small businesses from adopting good environmental practices. At worst they generate bad practice, including a builder who admitted his men had uncovered asbestos but didn't dispose of it in the proper way because it would have meant closing down the site. One architect also explained that his clients were simply not interested in sustainable design or construction: 'They're not aware of carbon emissions and the amount that's given off Clients are interested in speed and economy and the way that the market is at the moment.'

One of the restaurant owners admitted that environmental regulations were a 'stumbling bloc because "people won't come to your restaurant because you dispo
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Contact: Becky Gammon
becky.gammon@esrc.ac.uk
0-179-341-3122
Economic & Social Research Council
22-Jun-2004


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