Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Reducing vehicle emissions

Emissions from vehicle exhausts are a significant source air pollutants including:

  • CO2
  • carbon monoxide
  • fine dust particles
  • nitrogen oxides
  • unburnt hydrocarbons

There are also vehicle emissions of particles from tyre and brake wear.

Vehicle emissions result in outdoors air pollution and even higher levels of air pollution inside the emitting vehicles.

Air pollution from vehicle emissions may:

  • lead to ill health and even death - In the UK around 40,000 deaths each year are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution; outdoors air pollution is linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes associated to dementia. 
  • damage the environment and contribute to climate change
  • cause a nuisance to your neighbours and those on roadsides

Businesses often need to transport people and goods, and so will contribute to the air pollution impacts.

Find the best ways for your business to use transport. This will:

  • reduce the potential negative health and environmental impacts of your business's transport use
  • save your business money
  • improve business sustainability image, and with that
  • attract new customers

This guideline explains how to choose and use greener methods of transport, for staff travel and your supply chain. It will also help you to identify advice programmes, training tools and financial incentives that can help your business take action to reduce emissions of air pollutants, your carbon footprint and your transport costs.

Additional resources


Video Case Study: How to Reduce Carbon Emissions From Your Business

Limiting your vehicle emissions can help you to reduce your environmental impact and benefit your business.

Emissions from vehicle exhausts are a significant source of air pollutants including:

  • CO2
  • carbon monoxide
  • fine dust particles
  • nitrogen oxides
  • unburnt hydrocarbons

You should try to limit the amount of vehicle emissions that your business produces as they may:

  • lead to ill health, such as respiratory problems, among your staff and the public
  • cause a nuisance to your neighbours
  • contribute to roadside levels of pollution in urban centres
  • contribute to climate change

You can also reduce your transport costs, such as fuel bills and vehicle tax, by choosing vehicles that are more environmentally friendly and using them more efficiently.

Financial savings

By using vehicles more efficiently you can make significant financial savings through reduced fuel costs and less wear and tear which could help save money by using employees' time more efficiently and by finding new uses for land previously used for parking.

The Energy Saving Trust suggests that a business with a car and van fleet of 100 vehicles could save up to £90,000 a year by implementing green fleet policies. 

Investing in vehicles that are more environmentally friendly may also make you eligible for enhanced capital allowances and other tax breaks. See the page in this guideline on Taxes, tax breaks and grants for low-emission vehicles

Improved business' image

Reducing your environmental impact can help to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and improve the image of your business.

Awareness of environmental issues is growing, and customers, investors and other stakeholders increasingly prefer to deal with businesses that have good environmental credentials. Having environmental policies and procedures in place is likely to be viewed positively and can also help you win contracts when you tender for business.

Employee benefits

Educating your employees about the environmental impacts of transport and encouraging them to walk, cycle or use public transport for commuting and business travel can benefit their health and finances. It may also contribute to reduced sickness absence, increased staff retention and improved local air quality.

A workplace travel plan can be a cost-effective way for you to put these policies in place.

ChooseAnotherWay.com: How to create a workplace travel plan

Training your employees to drive safely and efficiently and to maintain vehicles can help reduce vehicle emissions and the number of work-related road incidents. Employees also benefit from a cleaner and safer environment and save money if they drive carefully outside of work. See the page in this guideline on Using work vehicles efficiently.

Business continuity

Fuel-efficient driving may also enable you to continue with your normal operations if there are temporary disruptions in the fuel supply.

Cabinet Office: Business continuity management for fuel shortages

Further Information

GOV.UK: CO2 emissions and fuel costs of new and used cars

What you must do

You must ensure that any vehicle used by your business is roadworthy and complies with exhaust emission standards and weight regulations. The minimum exhaust emission standards are specified in the:

  • MOT test scheme for cars, light goods vehicles and motorcycles
  • heavy goods vehicle (HGV) scheme for lorries
  • public service vehicles (PSV) scheme for buses and coaches

The Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) in Scotland enforce these standards by carrying out roadside checks to vehicles, to improve the roadworthiness of vehicles and ensuring operators and drivers comply.

Driver and Vehicle Agency: Vehicle testing (Northern Ireland)

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Scotland)

Air quality management areas (AQMAs)

Your local authority monitors air quality in your area. If this falls below a certain threshold they may declare an AQMA and introduce their own schemes to help improve poor air quality, for example low emission zones (LEZs). The local authority may decide to charge drivers to enter an LEZ if a vehicle doesn't meet certain emissions standards or qualify for an exemption.

Check with your local council to find out if there are any restrictions on vehicle access in your area.

Find your local council

Defra: Local air quality management areas (UK)

Avoid causing a nuisance

Dust, fumes or noise emissions from your vehicles can cause a nuisance to your neighbours. If your local council receives a complaint, they may request that you reduce or stop the nuisance, or ask you to carry out work to reduce or stop it.

See our guideline on noise, odour and other nuisances.

You must turn off your engine when your vehicle is stationary to reduce exhaust emissions and noise. You can be prosecuted or fined by some local councils if you leave your engine running while stationary for more than a few minutes. If the vehicle has refrigeration units, you should switch the engine off as long as there is an electrical supply to run them.

To understand how to reduce the environmental impact of your business transport the first thing you need to do is assess your current use of transport. This allows you to identify where you can cut your emissions.

You could simply record the type and volume of transport that your business uses. For more detailed analysis, you can work out the carbon footprint of your business transport.

Traffic Scotland: CO2 emissions calculator per type of transport

GOV.UK: Measuring and reporting environmental impacts (UK)

If your business has a fleet of vehicles, reduce emissions and save costs by choosing models with lower emissions. See the page in this guideline: Choose low-emission vehicles

Educate employees about the effects of different types of travel on the environment and encourage them to travel by train or bus rather than by car wherever possible. Link to public transport websites and timetables from your intranet.

Think about journeys in advance. Encourage employees to think in advance about journeys. Could a face-to-face meeting be replaced by a telephone conference call or could meetings in the same area be arranged for the same day?

Make use of journey planning tools, such as:

Translink: Journey planner (Northern Ireland)

Transport Scotland: Tools for planning your journey

Promote walking or cycling, possibly as part of a health and well-being campaign.

See our guideline on how to create a workplace travel plan.

You should also consider the environmental impact of transporting goods and materials to and from your business. See the page in this guideline on how to Reduce the environmental impact of transport logistics

Rethinking your logistics - the planning and implementation of moving goods and supplying services - can help you reduce your environmental impact.

If your business transports either your own or another organisation's freight, improving your systems may benefit your business and reduce your impact on the environment.

For example, if your business is making and receiving deliveries to and from a warehouse, it might make sense to have one central distribution centre. This could be cost-effective and has less environmental impact than a dispersed distribution system.

Moving freight by rail or water instead of by road can help reduce the environmental impact of logistics and be good for your business. However, switching freight to rail or water may require capital expenditure on new facilities for handling equipment, or new connections to the rail and waterway networks.

Fuel accounts for at least 30 per cent of operating costs of most road freight transport operations, so you should start by improving fuel management.

There are a number of free tools and products to help businesses improve operational efficiency and reduce fuel consumption of road freight:

Transport Scotland: Freight best practice guides

To reduce your carbon footprint further you should also consider the journeys that suppliers of goods and services make to and from your premises. You could aim to use local businesses where possible and check out your suppliers' environmental credentials by asking to see their environmental reports and policies.

Helping employees to plan their journeys effectively and encouraging them to drive safely and efficiently can help reduce fuel costs and improve the environmental and safety performance of your business. See the page in this guideline on Using work vehicles efficiently.

Your business can benefit from using vehicles in a safer and more fuel-efficient way. This will limit your vehicle emissions and lower your transport costs by reducing your insurance premiums. See the page in this guide on the benefits of reducing your vehicle emissions.

Safer driving means fewer injuries and fatalities, less accident damage to vehicles and less unproductive downtime for vehicle repair. You should manage the risks from using your vehicles and:

  • develop and implement driving for work policies
  • address staff training needs
  • maintain your vehicles

Driving for Better Business (DfBB) Advice on driving for work policies 

Fleetsafe: Support in developing and implementing fleet safety programmes  

Use vehicles efficiently

You can use fuel more efficiently by:

  • making sure that tyres are inflated to the correct pressure
  • removing any unnecessary clutter from vehicles
  • keeping vehicle speed down, eg it can cost up to 25 per cent more to drive at 70 miles per hour (mph) compared to 50mph - driving at 50-60mph produces the lowest emissions
  • avoiding harsh braking and acceleration
  • switching off the engine when at a standstill for more than three minutes
  • using air conditioning and other onboard electrical devices such as mobile phone chargers sparingly as this increases fuel consumption
  • pre-planning routes - you can reduce the impact of journeys by using less congested routes and avoiding peak travel times
  • avoiding using vehicles for short journeys, eg combining several short trips into one longer one - cold engines use 60 per cent more fuel per mile than warm engines

Consider whether flexible working practices could reduce your use of vehicles. This could include:

  • working from home
  • working flexible hours
  • teleconferencing or videoconferencing
  • providing incentives for car-sharing
  • using meeting venues that are easily accessible by public transport

Energy Saving Trust (Northern Ireland): Reducing the environmental impact of your fleet

Energy Saving Trust (Scotland): Making your fleet more sustainable

Train vehicle drivers

Training your employees to drive efficiently can reduce your fuel use and make your staff safer. For example, a one-day Efficient Driving course for van or heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers could help save up to £500 of fuel per vehicle per year, depending on mileage.

The Energy Saving Trust can help with driver education.

Energy Saving Trust (Northern Ireland): Fuel-efficient driving

Energy Saving Trust (Scotland): Fuel-efficient driving tips

Maintain vehicles

Maintain commercial vehicles in good working order so that they work efficiently. You should:

  • service all your vehicles regularly
  • inflate your tyres correctly as under-inflated tyres can increase fuel consumption by up to 3 per cent
  • remove roof bars and other items when you do not need them
  • monitor fuel consumption to help detect problems early
  • check that the exhaust system is in good working order

If your business has a fleet of vehicles, you could reduce emissions significantly and save costs by choosing environmentally friendly vehicles.

Generally, newer and smaller vehicles will tend to use less fuel and emit fewer harmful emissions.

Petrol and diesel engines have different effects on the environment. Diesel engines generally produce less CO2 but emit more air pollutants than petrol engines. As a general rule, if you intend to use the vehicle for long-distance or motorway driving then consider a diesel engine for fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. If the vehicle will be used more in urban areas, where air quality is a greater consideration, consider a fuel-efficient petrol engine.

There are several business benefits of choosing lower-emissions vehicles. These include tax breaks, lower running costs and reduced environmental impact. See the page in this guideline: Reduce the environmental impact of transport logistics

Before investing in new or second-hand vehicles you should check their CO2 emission levels. Environmental performance varies within each class. You could reduce your CO2 emissions and cut fuel bills by up to 25 per cent simply by choosing the most efficient vehicle in each class.

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA): Levels of CO2 emissions, vehicle excise duty and company car tax for new cars

Look at the fuel economy label on new cars. This will indicate the emissions, running costs and fuel consumption for the make and model.

Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership: Fuel economy label explained

The Energy Saving Trust can help you to reduce your fleet costs and improve the carbon footprint of your business. For example, a business with a fleet of 100 vehicles could save up to £90,000 each year by implementing green fleet policies. Your business may be eligible for free on-site consultancy from a fleet management expert.

Energy Saving Trust (Northern Ireland) Reducing the environmental impact of your fleet

Energy Saving Trust (Scotland): Making your fleet more sustainable

You can also call the Energy Saving Trust Fleet Transport Advice Line on Tel 0845 602 1425.

Lower CO2 emissions vehicles may be subject to lower taxes such as vehicle excise duty. See the page in this guideline on Taxes, tax breaks and grants for low-emission vehicles

You could also consider the benefits of alternatively powered vehicles, such as cars that run on electricity. See the page in this guideline on how to Use alternatively powered vehicles

Whether you are running a fleet or just your own vehicle, you can use cleaner fuels and vehicles which have less environmental impact and help lower your fuel costs. Some vehicles powered by alternative fuels or electricity produce less CO2 and air pollutants than those that run on petrol or diesel. They may also be subject to lower taxes such as vehicle excise duty. See the page in this guideline on tax breaks for low-emission vehicles.

Types of alternative fuel and vehicles include:

  • Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) - vehicles which run on LPG cost around 30 per cent less to run than those powered by petrol and approximately the same as diesel. They produce around 10 per cent less CO2 than petrol vehicles but slightly more than diesel. LPG vehicles emit significantly less air pollutants than diesel vehicles and similar to petrol vehicles. Drivers of LPG-powered vehicles may be able to claim lower company-car tax rates.
  • Natural gas - vehicles powered by natural gas (methane) produce significantly less CO2 than petrol vehicles, and similar or slightly less than diesel vehicles but with lower emissions of air pollutants.
  • Biofuels - transport biofuels are a renewable alternative to limited fossil fuels. They can be liquid or gas and can help you to reduce your business transport emissions. How much biofuels reduce CO2 emissions will depend on where they come from and the way they are produced. See our guideline on biofuel for transport.
  • Hybrid vehicles - these are powered by electricity and either petrol or diesel. They recharge their batteries during normal operation. This means less fuel is burned so CO2 emissions can be reduced and fuel costs are around two-thirds that of an equivalent petrol-only vehicle. Hybrids are also eligible for tax breaks, such as lower vehicle excise duty.
  • Electric vehicles - these produce no direct exhaust emissions, but there is still an environmental impact from the generation of electricity. You can reduce this by purchasing electricity generated from renewable sources. Vehicles run on electricity are also given many tax breaks.

While there are potential benefits to using alternatively powered cars, including cost savings and reduced environmental impact, you should check how easily vehicles can be refuelled before you purchase them.

Although alternatively powered vehicles may initially be more expensive than diesel or petrol-fuelled models, they are likely to provide long-term cost savings in fuel consumption.

Energy Saving Trust: Alternative fuels 

You may be able to take advantage of the ultra-low carbon cars grant. See the page in our guideline about on tax breaks and grants for low-emission vehicles.

Further Information

Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership

ECO Travel: Converting your fleet to run on alternative fuels

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA): Cars and fuel options

You can benefit if you buy and use certain low-carbon emission cars and vans, and zero-emission goods vehicles.

Plug-in Car Grant

Since January 2011, motorists purchasing a qualifying ultra-low emission car can receive a grant of 25 per cent towards the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

GOV.UK: Plug-in car grant

Capital allowances

If you buy a new car for your business that has CO2 emissions of 95 grams or less per kilometre (g/km) driven, or is electric, you can qualify for a 100 per cent first-year capital allowance. This allows you to offset the whole cost of the investment against taxable profits in the year you make the purchase.

For other cars, tax relief for business expenditure on cars is now based on CO2 emissions.

These changes took effect on 1 April 2009 for corporation tax and on 6 April 2009 for income tax. You will need to group your vehicles into pools depending on their emissions.

Cars with CO2 emissions of less than 160g/km qualify for 20 per cent capital allowances in the main rate pool. Cars with CO2 emissions over 160g/km qualify for 10 per cent capital allowances in the special rate pool.

Businesses that purchased cars before the above dates and have an accounting period that does not match the tax year, eg 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2009, will be subject to the old rules for a transitional period.

Employees and directors provided with a car or van for their private use that runs solely on electricity or which cannot produce CO2 under any circumstances when driven will qualify for a nil rate of income tax. The nil rate came into force on 6 April 2010 and applies for five years. The benefit-in-kind tax rate for ultra-low emission cars (75g/km or less) has also been reduced to 5 per cent.

You can also claim a 100 per cent first-year allowance for business expenditure on new and unused (not second hand) electric vans This applies for expenditure from 1 April 2010 for companies paying corporation tax and from 6 April 2010 for businesses paying income tax.

HMRC: First year allowances for cars with low CO2 emissions

Vehicle taxes

There are a number of taxes that affect, or could affect, your business' use of motor vehicles. These taxes aim to encourage you to reduce your vehicle use and emissions.

New cars have fuel economy labels which show how fuel efficient they are. The label shows how much CO2 the car emits and also how much vehicle tax you will have to pay each year. Lower CO2 emissions mean lower vehicle tax and lower running costs.

Road tax, or vehicle excise duty (VED), and the company car tax system are now based on the amount of CO2 emissions that a vehicle produces, with the most polluting cars paying the highest rate. Find the VED payable on cars on the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) website.

Vehicle Certification Agency: Car fuel consumption and CO2 tools

Find information on tax for company cars and how to calculate the benefit-in-kind tax payments for them on the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) website.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC): Company cars

You could significantly reduce the rate of fuel duty you pay by switching your existing vehicles to run on alternative fuels such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG), bioethanol or biodiesel.

HMRC: Fuel duty rates

Road pricing and congestion charging

You may be able to claim road-pricing concessions for low-emission vehicles in local councils where such schemes exist. Lorries, buses and vans that have low emissions will also avoid paying charges in some areas). See the page in this guideline on how to comply with vehicle emissions requirements.

Currently, there are few areas with congestion charging and road tolls but keeping your use of vehicles to a minimum will ensure that you are prepared if further costs on drivers are introduced.

Setting up a travel plan could also help you reduce the impact of road charging. The tax and national insurance systems encourage employers to set up Travel Plans for their employees.

ChooseAnotherWay: Travel plans

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