Planet Earth provides everything we need for our health, well-being and prosperity, so it is an irreplaceable asset, but one which is under pressure. If everyone lived as we in Scotland do, we would need the resources of almost three planets to support ourselves. Globally, that figure is estimated to be around 1.6 planets, and rising. Since we only have one Earth, our planet will eventually become a constraining factor on our success, unless we can find new ways to prosper within its capacity to support us.
The only businesses which will thrive in the 21st century will be those which have developed ways to prosper within planet Earth’s capacity to support them. We recognise this. Our statutory purpose gives us the job of protecting and improving the environment in ways which, as far as possible, also create health and well-being benefits and sustainable economic growth. This is the essence of our One Planet Prosperity, our Regulatory Strategy, a unique and visionary blueprint for making SEPA a regulator fit for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Most environment protection agencies were set up primarily to reduce the impacts of industrial pollution, principally through ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. This is still important, and we will continue to help businesses meet their legal obligations quickly, easily and cost-effectively and, where necessary, taking firm enforcement action against persistent offenders and environmental criminals.
Compliance is not negotiable; it is the first and necessary step on the journey towards one planet prosperity. Ensuring compliance is the most fundamental responsibility of a regulator, and SEPA has a good record of helping the vast majority of Scottish businesses meet their obligations. SEPA has now published its compliance results for 2015-16, and the good news is that the overall compliance rate has increased from 88% to 90.4%. The overall compliance target for 2015 was set at 89% and is one of the most stringent compliance targets in Europe.
“The high compliance rate SEPA has achieved with Scottish businesses is one of the factors that most attracted me to join the organisation,” said SEPA Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn. “A compliance rate of more than 90% is impressive by global standards and shows that the environment is regarded as an important priority in Scotland. I want to acknowledge the efforts of those businesses that maintained their compliance, those that moved into compliance, and of all our staff who worked hard to help all these businesses with their environmental performance.”
Although overall compliance rates have improved, there are clear trends within business sectors. The chemicals, nuclear and recycling sectors have shown high and stable compliance rates above 97%. Metals, public sewage and water resources have all shown an improving trend over three years, and compliance in the waste sector has seen an increase from 78% compliance in 2013 to 81% in 2015. Private sewage, on the other hand, has seen a declining three year trend. Scotland’s fish-farming sector has seen a drop from 86% to 82% compliance over the past year, and SEPA is presently engaging with industry representatives to improve this.
“We have made real progress towards full compliance by all Scottish businesses,” continued A’Hearn, “but ‘close enough’ is not good enough. Compliance by all Scottish businesses is imperative. And what we really need if we are to achieve meaningful environmental gains and create a vibrant economy suited to the challenges of the 21st century is for businesses to go beyond the compliance standards.”
SEPA acknowledges that businesses are more likely to beyond compliance if there are clear benefits and a clear understanding that all businesses are operating to the same regulatory standards.
“This is why we will build on last year’s strong performance to drive more of the remaining non-compliant businesses into compliance,” said A’Hearn, “and the new powers granted to SEPA in the 2014 Regulatory Reform Act will help us do so. We will use our new Sector Plans, Fixed and Variable Monetary Penalties, Enforcement Undertakings, and Sustainable Growth Agreements to drive improved performance from as many Scottish businesses as possible.”
SEPA is committed to helping forward-thinking, responsible businesses with guidance and support to turn environmental excellence into a commercial advantage. At the other end of the scale, SEPA is equally committed to providing backward-thinking and deliberately irresponsible businesses with the tough and punitive enforcement that their behaviour demands.
“In effect,” A’Hearn stressed, “businesses in Scotland can choose the type of environmental regulator they get: supportive partner or determined enforcer.”
The most successful businesses in the future will be those that are not just compliant, but those which are also low carbon, low materials use, low water use and low waste. These businesses will see improving their environmental performance as an opportunity, not a problem.
“I am looking forward to reporting against the ambitious aims we have set,” continued A’Hearn, “and to being held to account for making Scotland a nation with an even stronger environmental performance from its regulated businesses. Our role as a 21st century regulator is to help them to take these opportunities, creating lasting economic and social success from the resources of one planet. If you want to join us on the journey towards one planet prosperity, I’d like to hear from you.”