Lobbying is key to improving environment industry

Lobbying Government is crucial to improving the situation for the environment industry, and is something that companies, themselves, need to take part in, according to the Environment Industries Commission (EIC).

This was the message at Profiting in the Green Economy, the EIC’s national industry conference. At the event, Environment Minister Michael Meacher complemented leading members of the EIC as being particularly effective at lobbying Government. However, EIC Director Merlin Hyman pointed out that companies on the ground need to bring issues to the EIC’s attention.

Action by the EIC has resulted in a number of recent successes, said Hyman, such as the development of a government business plan to support the environment industry, through JEMU (the Joint Environmental Markets Unit). Lobbying by the EIC has also resulted in the Environment Minister sending out letters to 300 local authorities instructing them to step up inspections of licensing agreements regarding local air pollution control (LAPCs).

The environment industry is now a ‘sunshine’ industry, said Meacher. “Profiting in the green economy neatly captures the basic message that business performance and environmental performance are wholly complementary,” he said. “Environmental performance is increasingly seen as an integral part of sound business practice. That’s why we are seeing green purchasing and the array of supply chain initiatives; why also we see the growing interest of fund managers and insurers in the newer business indices such as FTSE4Good, the BiE Index of Corporate Engagement, the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index.”

A number of Government initiatives are beginning to bear environmental fruit, said Meacher, such as the Climate Change Levy, which, although unpopular, is showing early indications that it has resulted in a real change in behaviour. The Landfill Tax is having a similar effect.

“I am pleased that we can report positive progress on wider pollution control,” said the Minister. “There continues to be a substantial downward trend in polluting emissions across most sectors of industry.” These improvements stem from both regulatory action and technological and process improvements that are stimulated and rewarded by Government, he explained. The Minister also acknowledged Environment Agency initiatives such as the ‘Spotlight on Business Environmental Performance’ and the web-based NETREGS, designed to help businesses comply with environmental legislation.

Within Europe, a new initiative, ‘Environment Technology for Sustainable Development’, was recently endorsed by EU heads of government, and will lead to the development of an EU action plan, said the Head of the European Environment directorate, Jean-Francois Verstrynge. The plan will address barriers to both environmental technology take-up.

However, every silver lining has a cloud. “Waste is one of the government’s quality of life indicators that is failing,” said Dr Paul Leinster of the Environment Agency.

Meacher agreed. “There will be few profits and a none too green economy if we carry on producing waste at current levels,” he said. “Waste is an all too visible sign of inefficiency – a waste of the raw materials, embodied energy, manpower and processing, transportation etcetera. But it is also now a major environmental problem.”

The UK produces 400 million tonnes of waste each year, and the growth in waste has become un-coupled from the growth in the economy, with a 3% increase in waste each year, compared to only around 2% growth in the economy.

The Performance and Innovation Unit – the organisation that produced the Government’s energy report earlier this year (see related story) – is currently working on a ‘waste report’, which is intended to help the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the delivery of its waste strategy, said Meacher.

The Government is also pushing local authorities to increase their recycling rates by a combination of statutory targets and increased funding. Local authorities have to treble their recycling in five years, “and I intend to enforce this,” said Meacher. A third source of aid for recycling comes in the form of the relatively new Waste and Resources Action Plan (WRAP), an organisation designed to tackle the market barriers to increased recycling and develop markets for recycled products.

The Minister also outlined some examples of where good waste management is saving companies money. Kronospan Ltd, a manufacturer of MDF and other wood products, has introduced a new effluent plant, which is now saving the company over £1/4 million, cutting their water consumption by 44,000 cubic metres, cutting 48,000 cubic metres of effluent and replacing 480 tonnes of raw materials with recovered solids.

“Similarly, by introducing a waste minimisation programme, Walkers Snack Foods Ltd achieved cost savings of almost £1 million in the first year, reducing water use and solid wastes,” said Meacher.

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