The green business reaction: Could Brexit 'erode' environmental policies?

The dust is still settling, but soon the UK will attempt battle climate change outside of the European Union (EU). With the Government free to implement new independent policies, green businesses have been warned of "periods of uncertainty" that could ultimately "erode" the UK's environmental polices.

Are environmental policies at risk from “erosion”? Or does the UK’s Independence Day finally create the platform to reinvigorate failing recycling and air quality policies?

Are environmental policies at risk from “erosion”? Or does the UK’s Independence Day finally create the platform to reinvigorate failing recycling and air quality policies?

Spearheaded by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the Leave campaign has marked today (24 June) as the UK’s ‘”Independence Day” after claiming a 52% to 48% victory in the referendum. With economics and immigration dominating the campaigns, the UK’s environmental policy has been somewhat sidelined.

This has created a sense of uncertainty that has swept across sustainability professionals, but with the UK slowly coming to the realisation that it will soon by guided out of the EU by a new Prime Minister – and potentially without the aid Scotland and Northern Ireland – the green business sector has signified its intentions to work with the Government to push the environmental agenda.

So what does Brexit mean for green business? Are environmental policies at risk from “erosion” as the UK severs 40 year-old treaties? Or does the heralding of the UK’s Independence Day finally create the platform to reinvigorate failing recycling and air quality policies?

Brexit: The reaction

John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK

"Many of the laws that make our drinking and bathing water safe, our air cleaner, our fishing industry more sustainable and our climate safer now hang by a thread. But Greenpeace is determined that this country does not go back to year zero on environmental protection.

"Over the coming months we all need to demand that the government replaces European regulations protecting nature with new UK laws that are just as strong.

"There is a very real fear that Cameron's successor will come from the school that supports a bonfire of anti-pollution protections. The climate change-denying wing of the Conservative Party will be strengthened by this vote for Brexit. That means the green movement, indeed every Briton who values a clean and safe environment, may need to stand up for nature in the face of an attack on the natural world.”

Richard Black, director, Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU)

“Leaving the EU is likely to put an upwards pressure on energy bills, partly due to the direct financial costs of Brexit and also the impact of reduced investor confidence. So an immediate challenge for the Government following this vote will be to prevent bills rising.

“Affordability and security of supply have been enhanced by our increasing gas and electricity connections with the EU. A choice for the government now is whether it wants to continue expanding those connections and hence the benefits to hard-working British families, or to shut up shop.

“On climate change there has been speculation that an independent UK would scrap measures to tackle the problem. These measures are mostly enshrined in British law, however, and it seems likely that the strong cross-party majority in favour of reducing emissions in both Houses of Parliament would seek to defend them."

Martin Baxter, chief policy advisor, IEMA

“The referendum vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU raises significant questions for businesses, professionals and the wider public on environmental protection policy. 

“In establishing the UK’s future direction, Government must develop progressive policies for the UK to transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable economy which delivers real social value over the long-term.  It must seize the opportunity to accelerate the transformational change needed to meet long-term sustainability challenges and provide a much-needed boost to UK jobs and productivity. 

“An immediate test of the Government’s commitment to environment and sustainability lies in the adoption of the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget.  We urge the Government to adopt the independent Committee on Climate Change recommendation for a 57% emissions reduction, giving a clear and positive signal of its long-term environmental commitment.

Nick Molho, executive director, Aldersgate Group 

“Environmental and low carbon economy issues were largely overlooked during the EU referendum campaign. Yet, both within and outside the EU, the UK has often taken a leading position on tackling environmental issues such as climate change. Today, its low carbon and renewable energy economy has a turnover in excess of £46bn, employs over 238,000 full time workers directly and British businesses are leading exporters of clean technologies such as ultra-low emission cars.

“With serious environmental issues facing the world economy and with low carbon investment rapidly growing globally, it is in the UK’s economic and environmental interest to engage positively in international negotiations on climate change and other environmental issues and support the growth of its low carbon economy through national policy. Showing its commitment to the Climate Change Act by adopting the fifth carbon budget and a robust carbon plan to deliver it and making rapid progress on a 25 year plan to improve the state of the UK’s natural environment must now be essential priorities for the government.” 

Steve Lee, chief executive, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM)

“While it was conspicuously absent from the respective referendum campaigns, there is no hiding from the fact that EU membership has been a strong positive force for the quality of our environment and the associated benefits for our health, wellbeing, jobs, skills, growth and general sustainability.

“Stepping out of the EU brings financial, policy, legal and performance uncertainty which may well threaten a slow-down or reversal of the improvements we have enjoyed in recent years. As sustainable resources and waste management professionals, as an Institution, and as an industry we must now work together to build on what has been achieved to date. This will require leadership, determination and an industry ready to work with Governments – of whatever flavour – to protect what we have and to drive for further improvement. More than ever now, we need forward looking strategies across the UK to support investment and performance in this sector.”

“As far as this Institution is concerned, there has never been a more important time for our industry to work together and to use our body of knowledge and expertise to help influence and deliver a new environmental vision for our country.”

James Piper, commercial director, ecosurety

Companies are still required to meet their obligations when it comes to battery, packaging or electronic and electrical waste (WEEE) and we believe this will continue for the foreseeable future. In the short term, we could expect to see an element of exchange rate fluctuations and market disruptions as businesses grapple with a wide range of knock on effects affecting supply chains and international trade across a range of sectors.

“ecosurety believes such changes however are unlikely to affect the work that producers need to do each year to achieve compliance because the current system already adjusts for these type of market movements. This means, it’s business as usual for obligated producers for the foreseeable future.”

Tony Ward, head of power & utilities, EY

“Being an island with limited interconnection to the continent, the UK has out of necessity had to meet its energy needs, from electricity generation through to water distribution, largely from its own UK-based resources and assets. Demand for these services is not likely to change materially, despite the vote to leave the EU, and the UK-based industry will continue to meet that demand.

“The vote to leave the EU will also likely make its impact felt by creating an immediate heightened level of policy and regulatory uncertainty. Whatever Government emerges in the aftermath of the leave vote it will need to clarify its policies with respect to climate change, renewable energy, technology preferences, State Aid and many other matters of direct relevance to the utility industry, and to its investors.
“In many respects, the UK has taken a lead in Europe when it comes to renewable and low carbon policies – the question as to whether support for low carbon technologies will be withdrawn, and whether other industries will be favoured, is a fundamental one. How UK governments from now use their freedom from EU policy constraints will be watched closely.”

Melanie Kendall-Reid, compliance director, CARBON2018

“This is the end of an era. Whilst the British public has spoken and the decision to leave the EU has been made, the path is far from straight forward. The referendum is merely the start of a two year process of negotiations and decisions. The UK has now to decide if it will join the European Economic Area (EEA), thereby remaining as associate members of the European Union or cut all ties with Europe – as far as it is possible to do so in a globalised world economy.

“If the UK decides to remain part of the European Economic Area (EEA), the huge progress that has been made to date in improving the UK environment could be lost in the absence of external pressure and auditing that membership of the union has brought. A total withdrawal is likely to bring a much wider erosion of environmental policy, which could be the intention the current Government and one which risks significant economic damage to the UK. It is possible however, for members of the EEA to follow EU environmental policies.

“European environmental policies provide business opportunities to UK firms to become market leaders in the development of new technologies. A total withdrawal with no EEA membership would lead to significant risk both rising energy costs and security of supply as the UK has a heavy dependence on European interconnectors. Predictions are that by 2030 the UK will be importing circa 75% of its gas.”

Phil Foster, managing director, Love Energy Savings 

“One of the biggest expenditures for small businesses will be their energy, and the UK public have been warned recently that leaving the EU could have negative consequences on our bills.

"With the possibility of rising energy prices, small business owners should look to cut back wherever they can. This can include introducing some energy efficiency policies for your office, whether that’s greener LED lightbulbs, installing bigger windows for more natural light or adding movement detectors to turn off your lights automatically. There are so many small changes to be made, and they all add up to save a great deal of money for SMEs.”

Philip Simpson, commercial director, ReFood

“Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Brexit is that the British government now has the autonomy to set its own waste recycling targets. Previously, all UK legislation was voluntary, with Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland choosing to introduce laws that made the separation and recycling of food waste mandatory. England, however, left it to individual local authorities to implement their own initiatives. This saw widespread disparity in commitment to food waste recycling, with many local authorities choosing not to get provide collection services for homeowners or businesses. 

“Unfortunately, this is a short-sighted approach and fails to capitalise on the significant economic and sustainable benefits of food waste recycling. So, let’s use Brexit as a springboard for introducing a total ban on food waste to landfill in England. Free from the shackles of EU red-tape, DEFRA has a critical role to play in setting such targets and can help Britain to implement waste management laws at a far greater speed – tailored with the country’s needs firmly in mind.”

 Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, president, UEAPME

“UEAPME regrets to hear that the majority of UK citizens voted to leave the EU. We see the result as a strong call for a reform of the Europe Union. Things need to change, especially in order to create a more business friendly environment for our SMEs. Not only do we need Europe to be less bureaucratic, we also need the necessary reforms to create the right framework conditions for our SMEs to start a business and to successfully make it grow.

“Nevertheless, UEAPME remains convinced that the common European way is the best way to achieve that goal. We will therefore continue to fully support the European Institutions in that respect and persevere in our collaboration with SME associations and SMEs in Britain in a constructive and forward-looking manner.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director, ESA

“The referendum result will extend and intensify the uncertainty around both our industry and the UK more generally. The danger now is that the waste and recycling sector is placed at the bottom of the Government’s in-tray. It is therefore vital for us to make the case for the circular economy within the UK and to highlight the advantages of a strong and competitive resource efficient economy.

“Once the dust settles it will be absolutely critical for investment in our industry that the Government acts quickly to set out the terms of a UK exit and what it means for the waste sector. Regardless of our membership of the EU, there is huge scope for the waste and recycling sector to do things better and for the UK to improve its resource efficiency.

"The public’s vote has been cast and, while there may be threats, we must turn it into an opportunity and press the Government for the long-term framework that the waste and recycling industry now needs more than ever.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council

“Brexit is already sending shockwaves through the construction and property sector, the scale of which won’t be clear for some time. It will be a tough trading climate that will impact companies both large and small.

"The incentives remain strong for business to address climate change and other urgent sustainability challenges. Arguably now more than ever we need to minimise future risk, reduce costs, add value for clients, generate new commercial opportunities and ensure we have the best people working as productively as possible. A sustainable built environment is fundamental to these objectives.

"UK-GBC will redouble its support of the industry, make the business case for sustainability, and explore more deeply the commercial drivers for sustainability. We will encourage an unprecedented collaboration between progressive businesses, green groups and other trade bodies. We will take the argument to Government that a low carbon, sustainable built environment is good for UK Plc, and that this requires a clear and consistent policy landscape - in or out of the EU.”

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive, SUEZ

"While the UK renegotiates its EU membership for the years ahead there is a risk of a void at a national policy level. EU membership for Britain has been a crucial and effective driver of environmental policy and legislation which has seen the United Kingdom transform from being the ‘dirty man of Europe’ to a solid environmental performer. 

"Our industry has a very clear vision and understanding of what needs to be done to ensure that we continue to make environmental improvements with or without EU membership. The environmental services industry stands ready to maintain its work with UK policy-makers to ensure that we have a positive future in front of us, and that we build on the environmental gains achieved over the last two decades.”

Patrick Flaherty, chief executive, AECOM

“As the country faces a period of change and uncertainty, business must play a stabilising role. A positive, long-term focus on the future is required despite a referendum result that we and many businesses did not want.

“Business inevitably now faces a period of disruption. It is critical that the domestic agenda is not sidelined as the UK faces a minimum of two years of negotiations to leave the EU. Focus must remain on energy security and energy independence, as well as progressing the UK’s ambitious infrastructure pipeline.”

Matt Mace


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