Interested in writing sustainability, CSR and environmental guides for us?

Posted November 13th, 2012 by The Environment Site with No Comments

TheEnvironmentSite.org is looking for people that are interested in writing guides on a wide range of Sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental topics.

We currently have around 20 guides on environmental topics from all walks of life. But over the next months we are interested in expanding this range to include more topics in the Sustainability and CSR field.

So if you are interested in providing us with a guide on a topic of your choice why not get in touch and let us know what you want to write about. Please contact us.

Sustainable Business Systems: Stop Killing Kittens!

Posted July 21st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

A little bit of full disclosure here: one of my previous professional lives was in IT and business operations.  In short, it was part of my job to ensure there was enough technical robustness built into companies’ operations to ensure that if there was an IT failure business could continue uninterrupted.

In other words, if one server crashed another would be able to take its place; if an ISP or telephony supplier went out of business another would be able to take over .. etc etc.

In other words, it’s about making the system robust enough to take external shocks.

Which is why I find the current “discovery” of systems thinking a bit of a laugh.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.  What the world’s now waking up to is, in fact, the biggest flaw in our commercial and financial systems.

 

It’s the system, man!

So, let’s start at the top of system theory.  It’s not rocket science, in fact it’s pretty obvious and straightforward stuff.  Everyone relies on everyone else and we’re all happy together.  Join hands, dance around, and sing “Ring a ring of roses”.

That’s not to say that these individual nodes are all homogeneous clones.  Office IT systems have all sorts of weird and wonderful beasties within it, from mail servers to gateways, printers to iPhones.  They all unite to create a whole.  You wouldn’t have all of these systems hosted one one server, that would be madness!  And for every server you had running live, you’d make sure you had at least a bare bones backup in case it went down.

The same goes for systems of business in general and subsectors specifically.  Different companies provide different services and products within a unified whole.  When one company or sector becomes dominant it works against the system as a whole because you are introducing a single point of failure … a company (or server) which is so large and important that it’s failure could bring the entire economy down.

Only the very smallest companies have al their IT systems hosted one server and one server alone.  Why is it that we think it’s the mark of a mature and developed economy to allow such points of failure to flourish?  Seems more than a little odd to me.

“OK OK,” I can hear you cry.  “I’ve got it and you’re right.  But you promised us Kittens …”

What about the kittens?

This morning, after dropping the kids off for school, I stopped off at my local shop to pick up a few supplies for the day.  We’ve lived in the area for over 10 years so they know me pretty well and before long the shopkeeper and I were chatting about old cats and how she had to put two of hers’ down within a matter of weeks.

“I’m amazed,” she said (paraphrase!), “How many people don’t think and don’t care for their pets.  The trouble is when you take them to leading animal welfare charities (the RSPCA and Blue Cross) they have to put them down.  They’ve simply got too many to cope with now.”

This, I realised, is a travesty.  There is a whole kitten and puppy producing industry out there, yet so many are produced and found to be surplus to requirements.  Is this any model for a business .. to produce something you know is not needed?

But then I thought, well this is a wonderful sustainability metaphor.  Over supply leading to waste.  You couldn’t put it in a more fluffy, anthropomorphic way.

Then I had another thought and it struck right at the roots of what we believe business to be.

Stop Killing Kittens!

There’s a myth in business that companies welcome competition.  On the whole, they don’t.  What most companies try to do is dominate and then eliminate the opposition.

This is commonly called “the buy out”.  So if you’re selling widgets and a company comes along which has an innovation which threatens you you have one of to options: compete with them, or buy them out.

The thing is that there are entrepreneurs all over the country with bright ideas about how to make a newer and better widget.  Many of these ideas should be allowed to flourish full maturity.  On the whole they don’t because those businesses are then bought by bigger companies.

Such buyouts are, in effect, killing kittens and destabilising business systems by introducing single points of failure.

The second point is more easy to understand.  If no small businesses are allowed to grow and thrive then how is resilience supposed to be built into the marketplace?  All that’s happening is that the older, stronger companies are killing off potential competitors in order to eliminate their competition.

This actually increases the likelihood of a single point of failure being created.  So our economic model encourages us to create unsustainable businesses.

The first point is just as salient.  In order for pet owners to have cats in their homes, hundreds if not thousands of cats are put down every year.  In the same way, hundreds or thousands of businesses are bought up in order to eliminate competition or acquire new technologies, services or customers.

Is this a sensible or sustainable way of doing business .. to kill the kittens in order to ensure the old, flea bitten tom cat survives?  I don’t think so.

 A new monopolies and mergers law

So I’d like to propose a new twist to corporate law, one which I hope will bring a new resilience into corporate activities.  The proposal is very simple … to allow new companies to register as independent companies which may not be bought out for a given period (say, 5 or 10 years).

The principle is sound.  Some US states already allow “B corps”, businesses whose corporate governance can take more into account than just shareholder value.  This is just an extension of the principle and says a company, on establishment, may be protected from predatory action for a number of years.

To be clear, I have no problem with entrepreneurs nor do I have an issue with those who wish to set up a business to be sold to a larger concern in the future.

But I do question whether this should be the norm for a small or micro business.  why can’t these enterprises survive and flourish in their local communities .. why should the norm be that they become an arm of some huge Murdochian (TM) empire?

That helps no-one .. it doesn’t help the social community and it doesn’t help the business community.  If we want a sustainable business environment we have to face one simple fact … we have to let the kittens live.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ki4gmb/4625279455/

What a 19th Century Philosopher can tell us about energy conservation

Posted July 11th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Back in the 19th century, philosopher William Hazlitt stated we are only “imaginatively connected” to our future self whereas we are naturally connected to our past and present self. But what does a deep thinker like Hazlitt have to tell us about today’s energy debate?

It has something to do with the fact we unconsciously believe that our future self is someone else, not us; that our grasp on the future is tenuous at best and our motivations are totally rooted in the present: My gas bill is going up by 20 per cent so I am going to switch provider rather than save energy; I have just had a new lawn laid so will use as much tap water as I need to make sure it survives despite the ridiculously dry spring we have just experienced.

Our present self finds it hard to make decisions based on anything other than our immediate needs and wants. In Australia, scientists receive death threats because they advocate a carbon tax; China threatens financial retaliation if the EU includes foreign airlines in its Emissions Trading Scheme…countries, not just individuals, find it hard to look beyond the immediate.

Monday Morning
It is the classic Monday Morning Syndrome: I know I should have ironed a shirt on Sunday evening as I have a busy start to the week, I had plenty of time but couldn’t be bothered. Future Me will deal with the problem. On Monday morning I rush around dealing with the issue, making myself late cursing my lack of attention to the problem on Sunday night.

We are collectively leaving the problems on climate change to our future selves. That is bad enough, but we are also leaving them to future generations. Saving a few pounds now to meet the build budget, stores up problems for the future when the building rapidly becomes unfit for purpose. We know what will happen, but leave Future Self to deal with it.
A plumber leaves out an 80p isolating valve and a few years later his successor has to spend three hours trying to isolate the water supply in order to change the washer on a dripping tap. Everything we do now has consequences in the future and those consequences are increasingly frightening.

Germany has announced it will abandon nuclear power and go all out for renewables…but in the meantime that is bound to lead to a significant increase in gas consumption. The UK is decommissioning its nuclear capacity, but nimbyism means every proposed wind or solar farm gets held up by planning red tape.

If you don’t want nuclear; or wind; or to pay more; and you don’t want the hassle…what do you want? You can’t leave everything to Future You and expect to keep the lights on.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions. dfrise@hvca.org.uk

Read more at www.hvca.org.uk

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413456228/sizes/s/in/photostream/

Have you joined us on Facebook yet?

Posted July 5th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

TheEnvironmentSite.org is growing and we are growing on all fronts.

Today I wanted to let you know that we are on Facebook as well. Why not check out the latest jobs and other interesting discussions.

This is the link to our Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/theenvironmentsite

It’s not about The Environment, stupid

Posted June 27th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

As I’ve mentioned before, a significant part of my childhood was spent watching black and white silent comedies on BBC2.  Oddly enough though, I never really liked Charlie Chaplin.  This is probably because he’s alot deeper than justa slapstick merchant: the emotion and pathos is all his work is truly amazing.

Recently I came across Charlie Chaplin’s “Look up” speech from the end of The Great Dictator.  I’ve never seen the movie let alone this climax before and it really struck a chord.  Here’s one passage:

Greed has poisoned men’s souls – has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair”.

(My thanks to The Clown Ministry for the transcript)

The Great Dictator, released in 1940, is a very thinly veiled condemnation of Nazism.  Yet there is little if anything in this speech which is not relevant today.  This set me thinking about comparative history.

Rewind a century ago or so and all the main European countries were engaged in military struggles with one another around the world.  Militarism, the philosophy of protecting your nation’s interests through armed conflict, was fashionable and all sides kept and maintained huge standing armies.

The idea that we’re now in an era of economic imperialism is nothing new but when you compare the old idea of a military industrial complex with today’s financial services structures, you realise we haven’t really come that far in the last 50 to 100 years.

So while we all stomp around doing our bits for environmentalism, CSR, sustainability and whatever gets you going, let’s just remember that it’s not *really* about that.  This is all about man learning to actually treat himself and his neighbours with respect and compassion, and not letting anything get in the way of that.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlyterrific/5348053748/

The Demand for Business Development and Sales Professionals in the Waste Industry

Posted June 16th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Our visit to Sustainability Live in May confirmed our views that an increase demand for Waste Sales and Business Development professionals exists.  Having spoken to several exhibitors at the event, including leading Waste Companies, we found the waste industry to be nicely adjusting from the recession.  In line with this, the UK government is focussing attention on the development of the waste to energy sector, specifically within anaerobic digestion; which could generate up to seven per cent of the renewable energy required in the UK by 2020.

The waste industry is keen to attract people with a Sales and Business Development background in order to sell more; with the expanding markets of EfW, Recycling and Confidential Waste – there is also an increasing opportunity to sell more; more sales staff are required to capitalise on these opportunities according to Irfan Lohiya, Waste Recruitment Specialist at Allen & York.  These roles not only exist within Europe, as turnkey projects begin to unfold, such as Europe’s largest ever PFI recycling and waste project in Greater Manchester,  but this same trend is also occurring in the Middle East.  Rapid economic and industrial growth and an expanding population have been the major forces driving up the amount of waste generated by Gulf states.  Countries in the region produced over 22.2 million tons of municipal solid waste and 4.6 million tons of industrial solid waste in 2009, reflecting the need for more efficient waste management strategies.

 

By Vicky Kenrick at Allen & York

The Curious Case of Debenhams’ CSR

Posted June 6th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Somewhere in the last month or so I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have found myself chatting to a true institution in British broadcast media.  Someone like John Craven, but as this conversation was in confidence so I cannot tell you who.

To make life simple, let’s call this person John .. and let’s clarify that it’s NOT John Craven!

John has a Debenhams credit card and he’s recently moved house.  Like any good credit card holder he a) is always on top of his credit card obligations, and b) informed Debenhams of his change of address.

Then suddenly the person living at the old address starts receiving letters from Santander demanding payment on an outstanding credit card.

What?

After a bit of digging about, John discovered that Santander was the bank which underwrote his Debenhams credit card and that there’d been a bit of a mix up with his payments.  Debenhams refunded the late payment charge which had been taken from John’s account in error but there, it appears, is where the buck stops.

Crucially, when John asked what had gone wrong he was referred by Debenhams to Santander and when he asked for an apology Debenhams were not forthcoming.

A righteous mess and, you may think, Debenhams did well to refund quickly once the error was pointed out.  True .. but….

So often in corporate responsibility reports and policies you see a statement saying “we will always act within the regulatory framework of the country of our operations”, or some other phrase.  In other words “we won’t break the law”.

It’s always astonished me that companies feel it necessary to put this is black and white.  This anecdote from Debenhams shows why.

Debenhams acting illegally?

That Debenhams took money for a charge which was not owed was not in itself illegal, although some minor infraction of Direct Debit regulations may have made it so.

However Debenhams’ refusal to apologise is certainly unethical, and their treatment of John is definitely illegal.

The crux of both issues is that John had a Debenhams card, not a Santander one.  His contract was with Debenhams, and it’s of no concern to him to whom Debenhams sub-contract the service to.  This is basic contract law.

So.

John has passed on details of his change of address to Debenhams.  From his point of view it is Debenhams’ responsibility to get his address changed, not Santander’s.  That demand letters started turning up at John’s old address is a breach of the Data Protection Act and although the letters were coming from Santander it was Debenhams’ responsibility to ensure the address was correct.

Continuing on, Debenhams referred John to Santander once they’d refunded the money.  This they are not allowed to do.  Debenhams are contracted to John to provide a service.  Should that service fail they don’t have the option to refer John to the subcontractor : they have to explain and make good themselves.  So this too was illegal.

As a side note, the new occupier of John’s old house was so upset by the whole affair they threatened legal action against John!

So two illegal acts and a distraught third party threatening legal action because of Debenhams (not Santander) failing to fulfil their basic responsibilities.  I’m still lost as to why Debenhams believe an apology isn’t necessary.

So let’s Argos it

John, understandabily, is not a happy bunny but he tells me he’s run out of steam and probably won’t be persuing the matter any further.  I know John has done some time as a consumer affairs champion .. that he feels exhausted by the whole thing tells you something of the battle which has had to be gone through just to get the refund.

The sad thing is that this case is by no means unique.

A few years ago I bough an electric heater from Argos. The heater had a three year warranty and about 3 months short of the three years it broke down.  So I took it back to Argos to demand a refund.  “Oh no,” said Argos, “You have to contact the manufacturer.”

Rather than get into a protracted arguement about contract law, I pointed out that the manufacturer’s own instructions said that I should return the item to the retailer in case of breakdown.  At this they folded, and I’m immensely grateful to that manufacturer for putting my rights into black and white rather than allowing Argos to give me the run around.

I remind you again of the common “we will abide by the laws of the country in which we operate” statements in CSR policies and reports.

It’s rubbish.

If CSR means anything it should mean that companies take responsibility for the contracts they enter into with their clients and customers.  However, it appears most appear to want to shift the blame if possible, whether it’s legal or not.

This is deceitful, illegal and wrong.  So forget all about Carbon Emissions and Human Rights .. let’s at least have companies who are prepared to stand up their statutory duties.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdpettitt/5251522592/

On the proper way to limit overpopulation 3

Posted May 25th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

This is my third attempt to find a solution to the problem of overpopulation on this Earth by birth control; I hope that this time it will be perfect. I don’t repeat some of the arguments which I have provided in my previous articles, I’m going to give fresh thoughts instead. These might be like a spark to someone who is a decision-maker in birth control.

In my previous articles I didn’t mention compulsory education and liability for military service as ways to increase the average age of begetting the first child – but of course, I believe that it would help the cause. I didn’t mention freely available condoms or contraceptives either – because it seems that their effect would be too slim in a country like China. My birth control solution prefers keeping out of the danger zone – which means there shouldn’t be too many children even if mankind could afford that, because we don’t know when will be a food crisis. If we don’t regulate population size by law, population will fill the available space, thus we reach the danger zone. In order to avoid this, a population control law is needed.

An ideal, long-term population control law should ensure that there will be two children per couple on average. Why don’t we create a simple law then which would say that a person can have two children but not more (except if others have less than two)? We could try that, but I suspect that those would proliferate who beget twins or triplets in the second pregnancy so the law wouldn’t be sustainable in evolutionary time. It wouldn’t be liberal either if somebody had no chance to have many children. Based on the same arguments, previously I thought that only one or zero child should be allowed for sure, and there should be some competition which decides who will get the right to have more children. But then I realized that the competition I described was too severe, too unjust in some cases, causing too much disagreement, so I began to search for alternative solutions.

In order to lessen the disagreement, it is clear that the law should be more liberal, because those people disagree who feel their liberty endangered. Deciding by competition is liberal – in theory. But some people may want more liberty in practice. The less talented may want less competition, the more talented may want more competition, both wanting liberty. Being liberal in practice and giving the right not to compete would stop almost all competition, because all the less talented would quit the competition leaving the more talented with nobody to compete with. Thus the rate of competition should be common in a community, and it should be determined by common agreement. I think it is probable that the people will choose less competition, but how to implement it? How to implement no competition in a world with many twins and triplets?

Here’s the idea roughly: Everyone should be allowed to have one child (except in extreme worlds with many triplets), and everyone should be allowed from his ancestors to inherit the right to have more children if that ancestor had not exceeded the limit. So in practice every couple should be allowed to have two children whose ancestors all had two children. If the ancestors had less children, the descendants may be allowed to have more children. If the ancestors had more children, the descendants should have less children. But some people, like monks or old bachelors could even make their testament so that it would give their begetting right to another person, a group or the entire community for competition. By the way, this decision right could not be surely granted to bachelors in a real two-child-policy with triplets. Not allowing bachelors to choose spiritual descendants in their last will might be unjust, because the bachelors and monks may also try to make this world better… So this two-child-policy clone is my latest idea, and needs elaborated, but I think you can understand the point.

In my three articles we have seen three possible solutions to the problem of limiting the number of births by law. All of them were for a simple cause: keep the average number of the children per couple at 2 (in the long term). The three solutions differed by the suggested rate of competition – and the conclusion is that countries should decide which rate of competition they choose. I hope countries will not choose war in the long term.

The latest version of these three articles can be found on the blog here or visit my profile on The Environment Site, user fekarp.

Written by Arpad Fekete, This article is in the public domain.

Challenges of Recruitment in the Waste Management Sector

Posted May 19th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

The challenges facing waste and resource management over the next five years can be encapsulated within three convenient categories of economic, sustainability and technological issues.

 

The UK Government has a 2020 vision of resource efficiency, pollution reduction and atmospheric clean up.

 

International Sustainability Recruitment Consultants, Allen & York explore current challenges and the future of recruitment within the waste industry, including identifying the skill shortages; current recruitment trends and how recruitment will be affected but also have a positive impact on addressing these challenges.

 

Addressing the Economic Challenge

The pressure within the UK to provide cost-effective environmentally sustainable waste management has never been so great.  Traditionally local authorities have relied on landfill as a cheap and local way of getting rid of waste but the supply of landfill sites is finite and unsustainable in the long-term. Due to increasing pressure from the European Union and targets set by the new Waste Framework Directive, an economical and sustainable waste management policy is needed to avoid heavy penalties for not complying with these EU Directives.  The Waste Framework Directive requires that 50% of all household waste is recycled and in order to achieve this target the UK needs to build and operate specific large-scale recycling units and update its waste management infrastructure.

Significant inroads have been made into this recycling and waste reduction already, as every household with curbside collection will confirm, however more initiatives are required to hit these ambitious targets.  The launch of a multi-million pound waste infrastructure fund was announced by Boris Johnson at the beginning of climate week on March 21st and is one of many pioneering schemes that will help make London and the UK as a whole, a world leader in finding new ways to manage waste.

The fund aims to provide investment for projects that will help utilise the massive value of the UK’s waste through initiatives such as power plants to convert waste biomass to clean energy and facilities for recycling waste products such as food and plastics.  Interestingly this initiative focuses particularly on how to exploit the cash value of waste and use it to generate green energy whilst creating jobs and developing valuable exportable skills.

With this move towards more economic ways to deal with the worlds waste, comes a heightened demand for waste management and energy from waste professionals (EfW).

‘There is a £2 billion-a-year building boom in EfW plants nationally over the next 15 years’[1]

In terms of the effect that this move will have on the recruitment sector – International Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, Allen & York witness an increase in candidates with transferable skills gaining successful employment.

For example, experience and skills gained from landfill, power plant and engineering projects are able to be put to use within these newly created EfW opportunities including EfW Project Management roles. Whilst chemical engineering and chemical processing skills can be transferred to Bioenergy roles, providing the candidate with a move towards the sustainable, renewable energy area of waste management.

Energy from waste could provide a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs

It is crucial that the UK invest in alternatives to fossil fuels. Using waste as fuel can have important environmental benefits.  It can not only provide a safe and cost-effective way of waste disposal but can also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

As waste management climbs the political and environmental agenda, industry experts respond with other innovative ways of processing waste, for example anaerobic digestion, the latest method of in-vessel treatment of waste.  One of the most recent commissions is the farm-scale anaerobic digestion plant at Reaseheath College Cheshire, which is based on two small scale, low capital systems and can be replicated commercially on farms or in horticultural businesses.

Waste professionals with a plant design, construction or an operations background may be able to benefit from these new opportunities says Irfan Lohiya, Waste Recruitment Specialist at Allen & York. In addition, waste management opportunities within the clean tech and clean energy areas are also likely to increase as the UK becomes armed with the funds that can greatly increase the move to a low carbon economy.   Simon Brooks, European Investment Bank Vice President for the United Kingdom said: ‘Using waste to generate clean energy can be an important element to the contribution to climate action.’

The management of waste is one of the key themes of ‘sustainable development’[2]

The UK is making significant steps towards making the waste industry more sustainable.  Major improvements have occurred in the UK; in 1997 only 7% of England’s household waste was recycled. It has almost quadrupled to 27% in 2010 – a tremendous achievement by the public and local authorities.  94% of households now receive a doorstep collection service from their local council for recyclable materials and there has been a 50% expansion in kerbside recycling services in just one year, from 2009 to 2010. The UK EfW sector is undergoing unprecedented changes, with stakeholders having to constantly adapt to new legislation and evolving market forces. The concept “zero waste” is gaining prominence as the Government seeks to encourage waste prevention.

 

The Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) claims that the sector is expected to almost double its workforce by 2017 in recycling alone.

Employment opportunities in waste management have traditionally been within the public sector at local and national government, regulation within the Environment Agency, and the industrial land fill sector within waste disposal companies, says Lohiya.  However, with the development of sustainable waste management strategies, focusing on better uses for resources by collecting, sorting, recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishing materials, new opportunities have arisen for employment in the recycling and consulting arena. Research undertaken by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory (WAMITAB) identified a total of 65,000 jobs in waste management, and recycling is one of the main sub divisions continuing to show growth.

Reflecting the waste management industry’s drive to enhance standards of skill and training across the sector, a major initiative is already under way at WINTO – Waste Industry National Training Organisation, with the development of a workforce development plan for the waste sector.  It highlights relevant priorities for the area and specifies how to achieve greater success for employees and employers.

 

Future Opportunities in Waste

 

Europe maintains a strong position in the global recycling market. The UK’s first fully integrated plastic packaging sorting and recycling facility has launched this February 2011, which demonstrates not only the environmental benefits, but also the commercial and technological viability for mixed plastics recycling.

Germany has also been a key contributor to Europe’s strong position due to its technological leadership as well as strong commitment to addressing environmental concerns such as waste management through active legislation, it is anticipated that recycling in the region will get a boost from 2011 onwards.

The next three to five years is a critical period in the evolution of waste and resource management and if you are looking for a new role with this industry, Allen & York are ideally placed to help.

Our aim is to provide all those seeking to work within the waste management industry with as many options as possible, by partnering with international waste management contractors and waste consultancies, as well as local authority departments concerned with waste and recycling activities.

You will discover a selection of waste jobs within; Recycling, Landfill, Energy from Waste (EfW), Waste Management and Wastewater.

By Vicky Kenrick from Sustainability Recruitment Specialists, Allen & York.


[1] http://www.newlondonarchitecture.org/event.php?id=228&name=energy_from_waste

[2] Williams P, 1998. Waste Treatment and Disposal. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neubie/1001696838/sizes/s/

What is Regulation on environmental issues for?

Posted May 13th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

What is Regulation for? This question is clearly of some interest to the current Government – you could be excused for thinking that their answer is “nothing useful – it’s all a burden on business and is holding back economic growth”. The PM has launched the Red Tape Challenge - on the website there is a very large banner saying “it’s time to fight back and cut red tape” and “we need your help.”I’m surprised they haven’t wheeled out the picture of General Kitchener – “your country needs you” to cut red tape.

This is interesting in itself, but there’s more. The Govt have announced they are going to use “crowd-sourcing” to choose which Regulations (by which they mean Legislation as well as Regulation) to keep and which to ditch.

Gone are the days when double firsts from Oxbridge vied with each other to rise through the ranks of the Civil Service so they could put their finely tuned, classically-trained minds to the tricky task of devising brilliant solutions to the nation’s problems, through – you’ve guessed it – legislation and regulation. All that’s in the past now, a hopelessly out of date, fusty and outmoded approach. Now it’s the “wisdom of the crowd”, via Twitter or whatever, that will determine how things get done, how problems get solved etc. Tweet me if you think this is madness.

Back to the Red Tape Challenge! Here’s the letter from the PM: he lays out it in plain English. Regulations are bad for you and your country needs you to help identify into which category each and every Regulation (and Law) will be dumped, I mean put – here are the categories to put them in:

Regulations (and Laws) that:

  • should simply be scrapped;
  • have the right aim, but one which could be achieved without regulation;
  • could be made simpler, better designed, or consolidated with other regulations
  • could be implemented in a less burdensome way, or
  • are well-designed, good ones that should be kept.

Do see what they’ve done? The implication is that all Regulations and laws are bad, the first 4 bullet points can be paraphrased as: 1) scrap 2) scrap 3) simplify 4) don’t enforce. Only the fifth point relates to laws etc that are doing well and should be kept.

But hold on a minute. Aren’t there some laws (and regulations) that aren’t strong enough, or are in theory well-designed but inadequately enforced? YES! I have a good example here, the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) Regulation 2006 (number 2).

Only just last week I was informed of a farmer in Herefordshire who had bought some nice wildlife-rich meadows in 2009 and he has been busily destroying their wildlife, making them more productive. You might think there was a law to stop this sort of environmental destruction. There is, it’s the EIA (Agriculture) Regulation – it’s supposed to protect semi-natural or uncultivated areas (say a nice wildflower meadow) from significant effects ofintensive agriculture. But it doesn’t work – it’s too weak and poorly enforced. There’s another case going on at the moment in the Peak District – a large area of wildlife-rich meadow. The EIA (regs) cannot help there either – so the meadows are getting damaged. Oh and there’s another case in Warwickshire where a county wildlife site is threatened with destruction – can the EIA (Agriculture) Regs help? Sorry, no.

Despite the inadequacies of the EIA (Agriculture) Regs, all the evidence points towards the fact that the environment has benefited from legislation to protect it; all the way back to the clean air acts, which saved thousands of lives. When Sites of Special Scientific Interest were first created in 1949, they had no protection – they were literally just lines on maps. Many many wonderful wildlife sites were tragically destroyed in the 1950s, 60s 70s and 80s because the legislation was ineffectual. It was only with the introduction of European legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, which had to be enshrined in UK law, that SSSI protection was strengthened and the destruction started to slow down. Even into the mid-90s SSSI grasslands were still being ploughed up – it was the ploughing of Offham Down SSSI that led directly to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, which further strengthened the protection of SSSIs. Just the existence of well-designed legislation acts as an effective deterrent, without cases being taken to court.

The truth is most of us are generally well-behaved, most of the time. Even if everyone was well-behaved all of the time, there will still be occasions when the weak or those without voices, need to be protected, by law. The environment has no voice, and is too often taken for granted or exploited – it needs to be protected, by laws. It’s just the same as laws that protect children, or vulnerable adults, from exploitation or cruelty.

So – what’s to be done? We could join in the crowd-sourcing, and that would probably be a good idea, otherwise it is likely that the main source of suggestions will be from libertarians claiming all legislation is bad. But we also need to point out that for the environment, legislation is good – it protects the environment when other approaches (education, advice and incentives) do not work.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/trodel/3599402258/sizes/s/

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