The only nations, societies and 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 means that SEPA must undertake a very different role if we are to help create prosperity within our planet’s capacity to support it. This is the essence of our Regulatory Strategy, One Planet Prosperity, the unique and visionary blueprint for making SEPA a regulator fit for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Why ‘One Planet’ prosperity?
Planet Earth provides everything we need for our health, well-being and propserity: air, water, food, raw materials, energy, and processes which break down wastes. So our planet is a precious resource, but one which is also 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.
What do we plan to do?
Most environment protection agencies were set up to reduce the impacts of gross pollution from industrial sources, principally through ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. Tackling these forms of pollution where they still occur remains important, and we will continue to support businesses to help them meet their legal obligations quickly, easily and cost effectively. Where necessary, we will take firm action, including the effective and proportionate use of our new enforcement powers, against persistent offenders and environmental criminals. Compliance is not up for discussion, it is the first and necessary step on the journey towards one planet prosperity.
But regulatory compliance is just that, a first step. To make real progress towards one planet prosperity, we need to focus on helping as many as possible of those that we regulate to move “beyond compliance”. 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. Our role as a 21st century regulator is to help them to take these opportunities, creating lasting prosperity and viability from the resources of one planet.
How will we do this?
Legislation passed in 2014, the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act, not only provides our unique Statutory Purpose, it does so by enabling us to develop a range of regulatory tools through which to deliver this ambitious Statutory Purpose. We are, for example, creating a new, integrated framework of regulations which are simpler and more effective; we have implemented a new scheme of charges which enables us to direct our effort to where it is most needed; and we now have a suite of new enforcement powers, including fixed and variable monetary penalties, to help influence behaviour and secure compliance.
We are now also equipped to work with businesses to go beyond compliance and towards one planet prosperity. We will use new approaches and new tools, operating alongside the wider influences on businesses. We will, for example, develop Sector Plans for our interactions with each sector we regulate, focusing on practical ways of delivering environmental, social and economic benefits and clarity of what SEPA expects of the sector and what the sector can expect of SEPA. We will increasingly move our interactions with businesses to the most senior levels, as this is where the most important business decisions are made. We will develop Sustainable Growth Agreements with some influential businesses wishing to take clear practical actions with agreed support from SEPA, to demonstrate to other businesses the potential benefits of a one planet approach. And we will communicate success effectively, to encourage more and more businesses to follow the path of one planet prosperity.
All this will require us to develop our capacity and capability to work with businesses in ways which encourage and support innovative thinking for the 21st century, working collaboratively with business sectors, individual businesses and other organisations to drive and support innovation, problem-solving and, ultimately, prosperity within the capacity of our planet to support it. We believe this is a unique and visionary approach, which will transform SEPA into a truly world class environment protection agency, and Scotland into one of the first places in the world to be home to a genuinely 21st century environmental regulator.