The Environment Business Interview – Sustained Success

Phil Harding believes we are fast approaching breaking point with the environment. Tom Idle talks to the man who has helped one company cut its energy use by £16 million a year

Phil Harding joined the Department of Energy headquarters in London in 1975, the year North Sea oil came ashore. He was “fortunate enough” to transfer from London to the South West Energy Efficiency Office in Bristol in 1991 to fill the post of Deputy Regional Energy Efficiency Officer. He became Regional Energy Efficiency Officer for the South West in 1995, and the post has subsequently evolved to take on more environmental issues as well as the broader, more strategic remit of promoting sustainable development policy in the region.

What was your motivation for getting into the environment side of business?

I see environmental protection as essential if my children’s generation is to have a good quality of life. Environmental protection is also about protecting people. My main motivation fits closely with Sir Edmund Hilary’s observation that “environmental problems are really social problems anyway – they begin with people as the cause and end with people as the victims”, as well as the golden rule: “Do for others as you would have them do for you.”

We have inherited a wonderful environment but, in global terms, the human race is trashing it more rapidly than ever before and we are fast approaching breaking point.

So, what are your main challenges then?

The challenge for me is making sure the strategic work that I do with regional partner organisations really delivers what people on the ground need and want.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Two things: firstly, providing useful information and advice that businesses actually want – for them to then make an environmental and financial improvement in their performance. Secondly, creating a new webpage or management guide on a sustainability or environmental issue that usefully fills a need and is well received by managers and environmental practitioners. This can be really satisfying.

What do you dislike most?

Information overload. Information technology and the growing complexity of the environmental and sustainable development agenda combine to keep my email inbox too full.

Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

I hope that I will be playing my part in helping the Southwest and the UK adapt to climate change and reduce CO2 emissions more effectively than we are now. But ten years is a long time in government, so who knows.

What has been your biggest achievement?

In financial terms, helping a major UK company achieve energy savings of £16 million a year and reduce CO2 emissions by 480,000 tonnes a year over two years. In marketing and strategic terms, my biggest achievement is probably the ‘Our South West’ sustainability project, that is the www.our website and the numerous projects it supports and underpins.

If you could change anything about environmental policy, what would it be?
I would shift taxation away from employment (for example employer’s NICs) to resource use (for example fossil fuels) and waste.

Is the environmental impact of business too heavily regulated?
There is a danger that this could become the situation but I don’t think this is the case at present. Services such as your magazine and the Environment Agency’s useful NetRegs website can help businesses navigate through the maze.

How do you measure your success?

Feedback from clients and regional partners and repeat requests for advice and


What advice would you give to other readers who are doing what you are doing?

You have two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.

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