It’s a truism to say we live in interesting times. The pace of change – in communications, technology, globalisation, geopolitics – is faster and greater than ever, and represents challenges and opportunities.
But if there’s one constant, it is this small, blue planet on which we live.
Planet Earth provides everything we need to thrive – but we use many times more resources than it can sustain. It will eventually become a constraining factor on our success, unless we can find new ways to prosper within its capacity to support us.
Most environment protection agencies were set up primarily to reduce gross industrial pollution. We could do this pretty effectively; issuing licences, inspecting and monitoring, and enforcing compliance.
But as pollution sources have progressively come under control, so the opportunity to go beyond compliance, and realise the many benefits of environmental excellence for business and society, has come to the fore.
Achieving long-term prosperity, which respects our environment and delivers social benefits, needs a new way of thinking, and a new collaborative approach.
The most successful 21st century organisations, whether private, public, or third sector, will be those delivering excellence in environment, finance, ethics, society, and people.
The days when businesses made money, regulators controlled impacts, and voluntary organisations were our conscience, are long gone – if they ever existed. Entrepreneurs, businesses, academics, communities, regulators, public bodies and non-governmental organisations all have skills, experience and resources they can direct to resolving challenges and capitalising on opportunities. Over-reliance on narrow, individual skill-sets risks missing opportunities for innovative and visionary thinking and action.
Working together is key to sustainable success. As Scotland’s principal environmental regulator, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) recognises this.
We have some great examples of success. We worked in partnership with a local authority and the Scottish Government on restoring an urban river, cleaned up contaminated land, upgraded recreation facilities, improved connectivity through a network of footpaths, and boosted the appeal of a local housing development.
We’re working with partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors to deliver Stirling’s visionary £600m City Deal to enhance the natural environment, attract, retain and grow sustainable businesses, create a new digital district, and revive the river and local heritage.
Working independently limits our ambition, innovation, options and success. Working together, our vision and potential are almost limitless. Collaboration is the key to success.
Martin Valenti is Head of Strategic Initiatives at SEPA, vice-chair of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group, and a member of the Entrepreneurial Scotland network.