One planet prosperity – taking the EPA to the boardroom
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has expanded its focus from pollution control to also tackling the more fundamental issue of the 21st century: overuse of non-renewable resources.
Historically, the role of environment protection agencies worldwide has been to regulate pollution to air, water and soil. Rationally speaking, this role is crucial for ensuring a functioning society, since pollution limits the resources available for us to use. While SEPA is aware that there is still some work to do on regulating pollution, the agency has evolved its position to address the overarching issue behind the limitedness of non- renewable resources on our planet.
We are simply using too many resources, through pollution or inefficient systems. And, according to SEPA, the latter has become just as big, or even a bigger, threat to the environment than the former.
SEPA’s policy addressing the systemic overuse of resources is called One Planet Prosperity, and aims to bring Scotland’s use of non-renewable resources to levels that are within the planet’s capacity. Current human resource use is above the world’s carrying capacity – Australia would need 3.6 planets to continue current consumption patterns, while for Scotland it’s three – according to the World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Living Planet’ report, published in 2014.
SEPA’s statutory purpose – to deliver environmental protection and improvement in ways that also create health and well-being benefits and sustainable economic growth – means that we must undertake a very different role if we are to help create prosperity within our planet’s capacity to support it.
As a result, SEPA is tackling contemporary environmental problems and has evolved its role and policy to engage with industry to address specific problems in a collaborative way. Industry is listening intently and is taking action as their compliance authority (with increased powers) works with them to find bespoke solutions to their overconsumption. SEPA has become a sophisticated agency adapting policy and initiatives to industry specific needs.
Time to consult
SEPA has taken a client-focused approach, consulting with businesses on the major challenges that they face – focusing on each sector’s holistic business challenges, and approaching the solution from a perspective of reducing waste and resource use. Let’s amplify the point: waste less food and you can save hectares of land, cubic metres of water, tonnes of fertilisers and potentially megalitres of diesel for tractors and trucks.
We are developing individualised Sector Plans in line with our One Planet Prosperity policy. This approach was used, for instance with Lafarge (a cement and concrete company) and chicken farms in Northern Ireland, and with the whisky industry in Scotland.
The example of whisky
The sector plan is designed to suit individual businesses and market conditions, and show how they can turn
a market problem into an opportunity. The whisky industry is a prime example; Scotland’s reputation of a pristine environment is at risk from pollution, overuse of resources and the effects of climate change.
Consequently, the industry risks losing its competitive position as producers of a high-quality product that depends on that pristine environment. SEPA addressed this market risk working with the sector to explore opportunities to innovate and protect natural resources, developing a plan to improve material use, energy efficiency and protect local jobs.
An example that is in line with the sector plan is Diageo’s whisky distillery in Glendullan. It is currently using a biogas plant that turns co-products from its own operations into heat (suppling energy for whisky distillation), crop nutrition for local farms and clean water that is returned to the river. The plant is delivering a 25 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy demand at the distillery, reducing the carbon footprint by 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. On-site digestion technology meanwhile is boosting the circular economy in Scotland’s distillery sector.
While I was working with the Northern Ireland EPA, I was able to negotiate a Prosperity Agreement with cement manufacturer Lafarge for it to use waste-derived fuels. It took chicken manure from a major local poultry farm, as well as waste tyres, to replace 35 percent of the coal used to power its cement factory in Cookstown.
This agreement resulted in environmental, social and economic benefits, with Lafarge committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 10 percent. It also secured the long-term operation – and related jobs – of both the company’s plant and of the poultry farm, which was struggling to manage its waste.
Admittedly, government often struggles with being client-focused. Some EPAs around the world realise what the future is about, but others keep focusing on regulating only, which isn’t sufficient to bring resource use to the equivalent of One Planet.
The challenge for regulators in engaging industry is that they need to do so across the full supply chain rather than with just one company. This is time consuming and not a typical role of government, which is why employing facilitators to create whole-of- industry product stewardship schemes is optimal.
This leads to market forces that will ultimately put a value on wastes that are re-categorised as resources, heightened opportunities for the creation of new industry, jobs and innovation – through driving the connection to growing a new ecologically-sustainable economy – and perhaps even formulating prosperity agreements that enshrine similarity between initiatives.
SEPA, as an organisation that serves the Scottish people, has innovated by making it part of its mission to help ensure that present and future generations have a healthy planet to prosper in – socially, environmentally and economically.
Many of today’s environmental challenges cannot be addressed by regulation alone. They require a broader mix of solutions – regulatory programs, information, education, technical assistance and grants, as well as voluntary partnership programs. Government policy around environment and sustainability is becoming more sophisticated.
The role of EPAs and the way they use their compliance powers is becoming more sophisticated as they evolve to address 21st century issues in a more complex market.
Terry A’Hearn is the chief executive officer of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine. Get your free, obligation-free trial of the mag here.