There are two organisations within the UK government that police the environment and enforce the complex modern body of law that is concerned with protecting the environment. These are the Environment Agency and local authorities.
As with all law and in particular regard to small businesses these organizations take a dual approach, with both ‘sticks’ – punishment for law breaking – and ‘carrots’ to encourage transparency and collaboration around environmental compliance. The primary aim is to prevent breaches of environmental regulations and thereby damage to local ecology.
The sticks or punishments range from suspension of your license to do business, or in extreme cases even the complete removal of your license, and or prosecution, which if successful, can result in expensive fines. Smart small business owners will cooperate with the carrots in advance of any adverse environmental impacts. The carrots are all about welcoming inspections, monitoring and heeding the advice -both formal and informal – of environment agency officials. Formal advice comes in the form of written advice notices.
Environmental Compliance is a Cost Saver
From the perspective of the small business owner taking the collaborative approach alongside the environment agency not only prevents damage to the environment but also saves the costs of prosecution. Which can be considerable enough to drive small businesses under, but be aware that even cooperation all along may not protect you from the sticks. As was seen in the landmark case of Stanford versus the Environment Agency in ‘99.
Stanford V the Environment Agency
Mr. Stamford was a scrap metal merchant who believed his business activities were in fact exempt under environmental legislation and he duly notified the Agency of this belief that he did not require a waste management license. He cooperated fully with the agency officials who inspected his premises, but was not best pleased to learn from the officials that what he was doing was in fact illegal. Mr. Stamford was advised of the actions he needed to undertake in order to be legally exempt under the environmental legislation.
Several further visits followed the issuing of this advice and Mr. Stamford felt that he acquired a kind of immunity from prosecution if he were to implement their recommendations within the deadlines given. Unfortunately for Mr. Stamford prosecution followed which is more than can be said for the necessary rectification works he committed.
The scrap dealer tried to argue in court that he had a promise of non-prosecution from a number of agency officials. But there was no actual proof of any such promises from the Agency and the courts dismissed the suggestion and upheld the prosecuting authority’s case. You see the Agency is not obliged to give a definitive yes or no to prosecution. And even if the officials had said something to that effect it was definitely conditional upon the small business owner upholding his end of the agreement’. Cooperation has to be both actions and words. When Mr. Stamford did not make the improvements to his business, but rather continued to flout the environmental regulations he was left in no doubt that sticks go hand on hand with carrots. It is also an object lesson for all small business owners when it comes to environmental compliance…
…You may be given time to bring your activities into line with advice notices, but this does not mean you are immune to penalties, and especially not so if you do not do the smart thing and comply within deadline.
The EA Order of Attack
Case law of Environment Agency action makes it clear that there is a definite 3 stage pattern of attack in protecting the environment from the actions of small businesses.
- First you are informed and trained in the requirements of the legislation. Once a problem has been identified, an inspection made, advice notices given the breach of the law is made obvious to you. Your business may be simple but the impact on the environment may be complex and scientifically adverse. The EA advice is therefore, of necessity very technical. Education and information are the primary weapons for this stage in guaranteeing compliance.
- Warnings are given. As part of an on-going (never-ending) relationship between you the business owner and the EA and or local authority. The aim is always to change business behaviour and prevent environmental damage.
- Prosecutions inevitably follow where the breaches are deliberate and or acute in nature.
Smart small business owners consult with the EA before launching their business. Build compliant standard operating procedures into their operations from the start. Then promote their ‘green’ credentials as part of their brand image.