With the world’s economy in freefall what hope is there for the environment?

As the world economy takes a frightening plunge corporate environmental performance is probably not going to be a top priority. The question is whether the current economic wobble is enough to derail the sustainability agenda?

Without doubt the biggest concern for businesses at the moment is the deteriorating economic climate. Declining sales and rising costs are drawing attention away from other seemingly less pressing issues. This was confirmed in a recent survey of business leaders by Echo Research. About half of the sample said they would be doing less towards sustainability in the current economic context.

But setting aside sustainability is not a good idea and more and more of the best companies now that. Built into the fabric of how a company operates rather than a clever PR trick it can help organisations improve the way they work and save money.

Good environmental performance, for example, makes business sense. By using less energy a company not only reduces its carbon emissions, it can also slash running costs. Research by the Carbon Trust found that UK businesses could collectively save nearly £2.5bn during the next year, simply by implementing cost effective energy efficiency measures.

There are also some suggestions that a green building, one that has energy efficient light bulbs installed for example, represents less of a fire risk. Some underwriters are starting to think about how that would influence their premium pricing.

“UK businesses could collectively save nearly £2.5bn during the next year, simply by implementing cost effective energy efficiency measures

The UK Government has indicated that it doesn’t think the current economic climate should cloud anyone’s green agenda.

Britain has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 % by 2050. A large part of this drop will have to come from the private sector, so those companies that do more now are boosting their brand and future proofing themselves against any harsh treatment at the hands of the regulators.

Further, British MPs just passed an amendment to climate change legislation which means all large and medium sized companies will have to report their carbon emissions in a standardised way by 2012. The lobbyists believe the legislation will help give the corporate sector an edge in the rapidly expanding area of carbon reporting. Gearing up now could help companies do that.

Added to this is the fact that increasingly the best talent only wants to work for companies that have sustainability as a key corporate priority. In an intensely competitive environment, making sure the right people are on-board has never been more important.

It’s unlikely the corporate sector will abandon its greening efforts altogether. Any effect should only be temporary. Let's face it, climate change isn’t going away. The next year should put sustainability, including climate change, firmly back on the radar. World leaders are due to meet in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 to decide on post Kyoto carbon reductions. And American President-elect Barack Obama has hinted at bringing the world’s biggest economy inline with the international consensus.