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Tax incentives and better regulation ‘help’ green policies

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Tax breaks and a simplification of both regulations and information can help encourage more small firms to embrace environment friendly policies, a new survey has revealed.

The survey was carried out by the Forum of Private Business (FPB) and covered business owners on the group’s environmental panel.

Smaller firms appeared divided over the impact of the recession on green policies.

Over a fifth of respondents (22 per cent) said that they have put back plans for environment friendly measures as a consequence of the recession.

However, a near similar proportion (17 per cent) reported that they are more likely to pursue green solutions because of the downturn.

The majority (61 per cent) claimed that the recession had had no effect on their environmental policies.

Some 26 per cent of those polled have as yet implemented no environmental measures, but 22 per cent have formal plans and 56 per cent informal policies in place.

A number of obstacles to the ‘greening up’ of business operations emerged from the survey. These included costs, planning issues, time, return on investment, lack of information on technology, and lack of knowledge about where to access grants.

Most environmentally inclined business owners were motivated by a sense of responsibility, with 83 per cent carrying out green strategies because they believe it is ‘the right thing to do’.

Other incentives were reputation (57 per cent), saving money (48 per cent), good business policy (48 per cent), winning government contracts (13 per cent) and recruiting staff (13 per cent).

As for specific green measures, monitoring fuel bills (52 per cent) came out as the most popular, while upgrading commercial premises (48 per cent), investing in technology (43 per cent), and reducing the use of resources (39 per cent) all made it on to the list.

Asked what would encourage a broader introduction of green policies, a third cited funding or more easily accessible grants, and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) faster returns on investment or boosts to profitability.

A number also highlighted the helpfulness of a single point of contact for compliance with environmental regulations and a greater emphasis on better resource management rather than on monitoring carbon emissions.

While there was support for regulation, businesses said that the rules should be proportionate, clear and not imposed by different government departments. There was a perception, too, that environmental support, particularly funding, tended to be short-term and piecemeal rather than consistent and sustainable.

On specific proposals that would promote moves towards greener businesses, both tax incentives and a streamlining of grant schemes and the regulatory regime were rated highly.

VAT reductions for environment friendly investments were judged to be ‘very effective’ by 50 per cent; enhanced capital allowances for energy efficient solutions by 48 per cent; a simplification of grant schemes by 47 per cent; and a simplification of the regulations by 42 per cent.

More grants for SMEs were important for 42 per cent, and industry-specific guidance for 41 per cent.

However, extra taxation on energy, water and transport received the backing of just 5 per cent of respondents; and over three-quarters (77 per cent) came out against forcing businesses to improve environmental practices.

Commenting on the findings, Matt Goodman, the FPB’s policy representative, said: “When small businesses are considering implementing environmentally-friendly policies, the will is certainly there but it is often thwarted by the perception of steep costs and a lack of information and support.

“It is important to emphasise that measures to reduce carbon emissions can mean savings on the bottom line, but we also need a more joined-up approach from the government including a system of workable incentives that are rewarding rather than punitive.”