Heavy industry takes step towards sustainability

A trio of industries that provide more than their fair share of environmental headaches have become willing guinea pigs as they trial a new carrot and stick approach to cleaning up their act.

The UK’s chemical, nuclear and cement industries have become the first to be given tailor-made targets by the Environment Agency that combine the force of legislation with the goodwill of voluntary improvements.

The sector plans are expected to be the first of many and as the project gathers pace other industries with a significant environmental impact will be taken on board.

Next up are the waste, water, power generation, farming and food and drink sectors, whose plans are expected to be completed in 2006.

Tricia Henton, director of environmental protection at the Environment Agency said: “We’ve been working closely with industry to set challenging but realistic environmental targets, which work towards meeting objectives for the next five to fifteen years.

“These environmental plans are not an end product, but part of an ongoing process to work with industry to reduce risks to the environment and monitor performance.

“This is part of our modern approach to regulation – to reach environmental standards by targeting resources to where there is the most environmental risk and going beyond traditional regulation by using a mix of regulation and alternatives such as voluntary initiatives.”

The agreements propose environmental priorities, objectives and indicators of performance.

Timetables for key actions for both industry and the Environment Agency are summarised in each of the plans.

The targets in the sector plans will focus on the most significant risks and impacts that the sector poses to the environment, deliver improvements in environmental management and performance, help the EA to prioritise and target its resources where they are needed most, provide environmental benefits beyond those which can be achieved through regulation and monitor progress.

The three industries and the EA are putting on a united front and have all had warm words to say about the potential of the new agreements.

Mike Gilbert, chief executive of the British Cement Association, welcomed the publication plans saying they allowed his industry to demonstrate transparency and encouraged good practice.

“The cement industry has already made great strides in achieving progress against its challenges,” he said.

“Most notably in reducing emissions, the use of natural resources and process waste.”

He also promised the industry’s progress towards sector plan targets would be published each year in the BCA’s performance report.

The Chemical Industry Association also told edie it applauded the plan, as it goes beyond what is currently achieved through regulation, recognizing the significant contribution made by voluntary initiatives.

Steve Elliott, director of business environment, said: “It’s encouraging to know that the Environment Agency’s Sector Plan is focusing on key environmental outcomes and best use of resources in addressing those outcomes – an approach that very much responds to the government’s current Better Regulation initiative.

“We will continue to work with the Agency in developing and implementing the plan to help secure the ultimate goal of a better environment for all.”

A spokesman for the Nuclear Industry Association told edie the plans had been welcomed by the industry and built on voluntary initiatives already underway.

The EA’s Ms Henton said: “We are encouraged by the support and contribution to the sector plans from industry and will continue to work together with operators, trade associations, environmental interest groups and others to develop further and carry out the plans.”

Full details of the three plans can be found on the EA website but all three industries have been asked to reduce emissions and discharges, cut down on their use of natural resources and reduce the amount of waste created by their sectors.

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie