Comment: Scottish businesses need to face up to the scale of the environmental challenges facing society, says Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency
The scale of environmental challenge facing humanity is enormous, with a real urgency to act. Every day the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment by helping communities and businesses thrive within the resources of our planet. We call this One Planet Prosperity.
SEPA is clear that environmental compliance is non-negotiable. Businesses and organisations that do the right thing for the environment will be supported by SEPA, they’ll be helped to keep doing the right thing and do even better.
Those that get it wrong will be held to account. This is at the core of our One Planet Prosperity strategy.
Under this strategy, SEPA is committed to delivering two key contributions to making Scotland stronger.
First, we will more quickly and powerfully get all Scottish businesses meeting the environmental laws in Scotland.
Second, we will help as many Scottish businesses as possible go even further, by helping them find profitable ways to go beyond what the law requires in reducing their use of energy, water and materials and the amount of waste they produce.
In February, we announced a six-year high in environmental performance by Scottish business, with 91.7 per cent of regulated business sites assessed compliant.
We’re using our new enforcement tools to bring more businesses into compliance. Fixed monetary penalties have led to behaviour change in the waste sector where materials now have to be separated for recycling.
We’ve seen several Enforcement Undertakings accepted by SEPA since we introduced them last year.
Enforcement Undertakings can be used to bring about effective and immediate solutions to environmental offences and requires the offender to work with SEPA to ensure ongoing compliance in future, as well as making appropriate restitution.
The first major Enforcement Undertaking saw £280,000 committed to community projects and environmental improvements across Aberdeenshire.
Achieving One Planet Prosperity will only be done by identifying where individual businesses and industry can go beyond compliance. Scotland has the unique opportunity to set the trend on a global scale. There are huge economic incentives for going beyond basic compliance.
So, our second contribution is to help as many Scottish businesses as possible find profitable ways to go beyond what the law requires in reducing their use of energy, water and materials and the amount of waste they produce.
The first Sustainable Growth Agreement in Scotland was signed between SEPA and Superglass Insulation in 2017, with six commitments to enhance the environmental performance of the company over four years – with support and assistance from SEPA.
Successful businesses in future will be those like Superglass that reduce their use of resources.
Prosperous societies will be comprised of these businesses. This can be Scotland with sector plans driving this ambition forward.
Our sector plans will be at the heart of everything we do and will shape our interactions with sectors and the businesses in them. We will have two simple aims. We will ensure that every regulated business fully meets their compliance obligations and help as many regulated businesses as possible to go beyond the compliance standards.
Our first three plans, which will be published in July, cover the Scotch whisky, metals and landfill sectors.
Scotland has already established itself as world class in responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by addressing climate change, as a globally recognised expert in managing our water environment and, more recently, as a recognised leader in tackling environmental crime.
Like Scotland, SEPA is small enough to organise itself to deliver effectively, but large enough to have a real impact not just nationally, but globally too.
We are transforming our approach to create a world-class environment protection agency fit for the challenges of tomorrow. By embracing opportunities to work with others with a global voice and reach we can help make our voice heard and our vision real.
So I challenge all business leaders – change your mindset, face up to the scale of the environmental challenge facing us and understand how your business will help solve it while creating businesses success.
Terry A’Hearn is chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency
To find out more go to https://www.sepa.org.uk