MORE than nine out of 10 businesses in the Highlands and Islands are exploring ways of reducing their impacts on the environment, research has revealed.

One thousand businesses took part in the latest survey conducted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise between September and October.

It shows that 93 per cent of companies across the region are already aiming to reduce their environmental impact by taking steps such as minimising waste and improving the energy efficiency of premises.

Almost three quarters (72%) of larger firms – 25 or more employees – are investing in more energy efficient equipment. Food and drink businesses were more likely than average to have already improved the energy efficiency of their systems and processes.

Mitigating carbon emissions from transport presents a challenge to the 97% of businesses who are reliant on this for their day-to-day operations.

Using more locally sourced supplies (62%), investing in more energy efficient transport (47%) and collaborating to achieve efficiencies (46%) are some of the key actions businesses anticipate taking.

At a time of uncertainty for businesses, the survey also found four in five companies reported good (41%) or steady (38%) performance in the past 12 months.

Levels of optimism about their prospects remain high, with 72% optimistic for the next year, although this is 8% lower than last year.

Most businesses (89%) see the UK’s departure from the European Union as a risk to their business, while 36% describe it as a significant risk. Despite this, only half (52%) said they felt prepared for Brexit, while 39% were not.

Martin Johnson, interim director of strategy and regional economy at HIE, said: “It is encouraging to see so many businesses responding to the climate emergency and demonstrating their ability to adapt in a time of change.

“It is important that all businesses and organisations continue to do so as we move towards an economy based on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The report said that businesses demonstrated high levels of commitment to reducing their environmental impacts: out of an overall score of 10 (meaning “very committed”) the mean score for all businesses was 7.3.

It showed the vast majority of businesses were already taking some actions to reduce or respond to their environmental impacts.

This was most commonly seen in minimising their waste (82%) and improving the energy efficiency of premises (62%).

But fewer were improving the energy efficiency of their systems and processes (45%) or looking at how they can offset their carbon emissions (36%).

The vast majority of businesses relied on transport for their day-to-day operations, with 86% of these anticipated taking action to help reduce the environmental impacts of their travel or transportation.

They were most likely to be using more locally sourced supplies, investing in more energy efficient transport and collaborating with other business to achieve efficiencies.

Re-using equipment and materials for as long as possible (93%) and recycling or re-using their waste products (81%) were the main ways in which businesses anticipated eliminating their waste and reducing their emissions.

Over half (55%) of businesses said they already operated in an environmentally sustainable way.

But barriers that prevented other businesses from reducing their environmental impacts included: the cost of making changes (50%), a perception that reducing environmental impacts was not relevant to their business (39%), lack of time to research or implement actions (34%) and lack of knowledge and skills.

“Plans to reduce environmental impacts were less prevalent in the financial and business services sector.”

A spokesman for HIE added: “Our regular business panel surveys include questions on performance and growth aspirations, and also explore relevant topical issues with businesses and social enterprises throughout the region.

“The findings provide a temperature check of business confidence and help identify regional challenges and opportunities.

“As panel membership is representative of the Highlands and Islands business population, it provides a strong evidence base that facilitates robust regional, sub-regional and sectoral information.”

Panel surveys are undertaken by Ipsos Mori, HIE’s appointed research agency.