On Tuesday 15 May the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT), in partnership with Lancaster University, hosted a dinner discussion on the topic of ‘Green Future: The UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan’. Held in the House of Lords the event was chaired by Mr Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Providing their experiences were guest speakers Mr Julian Hunt, Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications, GB, Coca-Cola European Partners, and Professor Nigel Paul, Director of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster University. The dinner discussion was attended by members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, as well as by business representatives from a wide variety of sectors.
The publication of ‘Green Future: The UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan’ begins to define a long-term strategy for UK environment policy. The event provided an opportunity for Parliamentarians and the business community to discuss this emerging strategy, which will affect all aspects of business activity. Equally, many aspects of environmental protection depend on business for their successful implementation.
Innovation to develop the tools needed to meet policy objectives
There was a broad consensus amongst attendees that the current 25 Year Environment Plan was very powerful in its aspiration but lacked detail on how its objectives would be delivered. The vital role of innovative products, processes and services that deliver both environmental and economic benefits was widely recognised. All elements of the 25 Year Environment Plan will benefit from effective innovation, from food production and securing our drinking water to minimising flooding and reducing pollution. The discussion also highlighted that innovation needs to be much more than simply ‘technical invention’. Innovation must also involve new ways of thinking and behaviour. One example discussed included the need for ‘buy-in’ by all the communities involved in schemes to reduce flooding by tree planting and other changes in the uplands. However, changing attitudes to single use plastics provided a strong, topical focus for this discussion, which covered the success of the 5p charge in reducing the use of plastic shopping bags and the recent increased awareness of plastic pollution following Blue Planet 2. Attendees noted that the current high public profile of plastic pollution could be a powerful force for change, but needed to be supported by viable alternatives to existing single use plastic products, and by consistent policy.
Businesses need for consistency in environmental policy
A view that emerged strongly during discussion was that businesses needed consistency in environmental policy. Without consistency, it was hard for businesses to implement changes in practice or make longer-term investment decisions. The title of the government’s environment strategy was very apt. While there will be occasions where challenges, or opportunities, require urgent action, this is, rightly, an environment plan that looks ahead over 25 years, not 25 months or 25 weeks. The balance of the discussion was clearly that this long-term thinking also needs to be reflected in the implementation of the 25 year plan.
Synergies from connecting environmental policy with other priorities
As well as ‘Green Future: The UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan’ the government published its ‘Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future’ in late 2017, and both reports refer to each other as ‘sister documents’. However, while the 25 year plan is, understandably, very strongly focussed on environmental benefits, the Clean growth plan is much more focussed on the economic and social benefits of clean and sustainable growth. These two apparently rather different perspectives are not in conflict. The Clean Growth Strategy makes the statement that ‘The move to cleaner economic growth – through low carbon technologies and the efficient use of resources – is one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time’. This statement is equally pertinent to the development of the innovative products and services needed across multiple sectors to deliver many of the aims of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
Seeing these opportunities, as well as the undoubted challenges, may be key element in translating the aspirations of the plan into the actions required to protect our environment at a time of unparalleled change.
Words by Professor Nigel Paul, Environment Centre, Lancaster University