For businesses in York and district green is good. But how do you be good? IAIN WITHERS explains.

NO surprises then - as a business in York and North and East Yorkshire you have finally accepted that you need to go green. Or do you?

How do you know that your contribution to carbon emissions - and therefore the fate of the planet - isn't minuscule?

That you are so good there is little room for improvement?

On the other hand, you may be just as ignorant about the hideous effects that your venture is having on the atmosphere.

It will become increasingly essential to gauge your progress, otherwise the Government will bear down on you to make your contribution to the battle against global warming.

Yet right here, on your doorstep, is an organisation which is working to help you to calculate how much, or how little, junk you and your supply chain are generating.

ISA UK, founded by Tommy Wiedmann, who works for the Stockholm Institute at the University of York, sets out to find the "carbon footprint" we create not just as individuals but as businesses.

It is the kind of benchmark which is essential if we are to make progress.

His company offers the pioneering software "Bottomline3" to businesses, which calculates not only direct carbon emissions, but emissions from its supply chain.

Mr Wiedmann says: "You may find that the brunt of your carbon emissions comes directly from your suppliers, or for example, from the electricity used to produce the product you buy."

If, for instance, that product is made of aluminium, its drain on electrical energy will be particularly high.

This is the kind of detailed data needed to establish your "carbon footprint" in order to gauge your firm's true environmental impact.

"We've found that indirect emissions typically account for three or four times as many emissions as direct sources such as heating. If you leave these out, you end up ignoring the majority of your emissions."

But the process is essentially easy because calculations are based on data you would tend to have anyway such as your financial accounts and utility bills.

Mr Wiedmann says: "Finding out your carbon rating makes good business sense.

It's a good way of showing consumers that you are truly ahead of the game."

Given the groundswell developing behind Government policy on tackling climate change, can your business really afford to fall behind?

For the moment a legal requirement to limit direct emissions only exists at an industrial level under the European Carbon Trading Scheme (see panel).

But all Yorkshire businesses should be watching their backs.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is already contemplating extending the scheme into aviation and transport, and is considering necessitating environmental reporting for all UK companies.

A Defra spokesman said, "The Government is considering options to increase the quality of carbon disclosure to an internationally agreed framework, that will see companies disclose information on both 'direct' and 'indirect' emissions, including operations overseas."

So the "green police"could very well soon be at your door.

But the imperative to think green - and start green accounting now - isn't all negative.

Tom Oxley is corporate responsibility manager for Norwich Union Life, one of York's greenest companies.

He says that the company, which recently committed itself to being carbon neutral, discovered that "going green" could prove to be an astute marketing move.

"Our research suggests that customers are making consumption decisions based on green criteria.

"Companies that don't respond to environmental problems will be punished as customers move to those that do."

Given two similar products, having a green marque could well prove to be a decisive weapon in your company's arsenal.

Mr Oxley points out that the potential benefits are not just in sales, but also cost cutting.

"Even if your board is not convinced by the moral arguments, they should be convinced by the likelihood of cutting overheads such as energy costs, " he says.

Len Cruddas, chief executive of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, is well placed to gauge the shift in regional company policy on green matters.

"Environmental issues have been taken much more seriously by companies over the past two years, " he says. "Before that issues such as climate change were always at the back of businesses' minds and companies never got round to addressing them. Now the environment is much higher up the business agenda."

And with Tommy Wiedmann's fledgling company ISA-UK close at hand to help determine your carbon footprint, Yorkshire companies can have no excuse for missing the green boat.

For more information on Bottomline3, visit www. bottomline3. co. uk or email Mr Wiedmann at info@isa-research. co. uk

SOME of the biggest organisations in York are included in figures kept by DEFRA showing the carbon emissions for the UK's largest firms.

Top of the city's list is, ironically, the British Sugar plant which in 2003 - the last time an inventory was taken - emitted 75,529 tonnes.

Based on this, the target suggested by the European Union would have been 71,367 tonnes annually between 2008 and 2012.

But as York's sugar plant is due to close in July, whatever problems caused by the industrial process will soon be cured.

However, it is worth noting that the contribution of oxygen levels from growing thousands of tonnes of beet in the region is not taken into account in these figures.

Other major polluters in York, whose spokespeople are quick to comment on their progress, include:

*Nestle York: 2003 CO2 emissions - 50,959 tonnes Annual allocation from 2008 is 50,601tonnes Progress - "We reduced energy use by almost five per cent in 2006 and CO2 emissions by three per cent compared with 2005."

*University of York: 2003 CO2 emissions - 7,442tonnes Annual allocation from 2008 is 7,086tonnes Progress - "We know what our carbon emissions are both in terms of tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum and kilogramme per square metre of area. We are working on a long-term carbon strategy. The targets are demanding, but they have to be and our strategy is based on meeting them."

*York Hospital: 2003 CO2 emissions - 5, 487tonnes Annual allocation from 2008 is 5,440tonnes Progress - "We have an agreed carbon emissions target for each year and an improvement target. York Hospital Trust has volunteered to work with Yorkshire Forward in leading the regional progress in emissions, waste management, re-cycling and energy efficiency. We are progressing well although the NHS will soon be treated as one organisation rather than on location by location. We were slightly over our individual target at the end of 2006 but are now installing a lean burn boiler."