Pollution cuts can benefit all

Technology providers will be key to implementing new environmental regulations requiring firms to take a longer-term view of pollution’s impact, says Merlin Hyman

The Government’s new Bill to enact the European Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) could herald a new dawn in environmental regulation. For the first time, big industrial sites will have a statutory responsibility to look not only at their emissions, but at the lifecycle impacts of their site.

But the success of IPPC will depend on whether the standards and guidance merely entrench the status quo, or reflect what the best techniques and technology can achieve.

The environment, mainstream industry and the environmental technology and services industry will all be losers if the new directive does not embrace the opportunities to tackle environmental impacts.

Making it work will not just be about the relationship between polluting industries and regulators. IPPC will rely equally for its success on the environmental technology and services industry, for skills, equipment and knowledge. The ability of the environmental industry to provide cost-effective technologies will be central to IPPC’s success.

The directive will regulate, by 2007 at the latest, waste minimisation, noise and vibration, consumption of raw materials (including water), energy efficiency, prevention of accidents, site protection and restoration. It will cover more types of processes and look more widely at the pollution impact of a plant or activity, starting with the best environmental way of doing a job. It will cover around 6,000 installations in Britain, compared with the 2,200 processes now subject to Integrated Pollution Control.

And it will challenge companies providing pollution control technologies to consider the wider environmental impacts of the processes they are cleaning up. To be attractive to industries under the new regime, pollution control technologies will need to address waste minimisation, energy efficiency and noise as well as the pollution they are treating.

Improving environmental performance will be based upon best available techniques – not, as now, best available technology not entailing excessive cost. `Best available techniques’ prevent or minimise pollution and waste, can be implemented effectively, and are economically and technically viable. To help European Union states evaluate what the best available techniques are, reference documents will give guidance. They will provide the basis for the Environment Agency in the UK to draw up guidance notes.

The process of preparing these documents is under way in Seville. Reference documents for pulp and paper, iron and steel, cement and lime, and cooling systems are being finalised. Documents for glass, textiles, ferrous metal processing, non-ferrous metal processes, tanneries and monitoring systems are also being worked on.

Future documents will include large-volume organic chemicals, gaseous and liquid inorganic chemicals, and foundries. In all these areas, the environmental technology industry has a unique experience of the best available techniques.

The Environmental Industries Commission, as lead association for the UK environmental technology and services industry, is representing the industry at Seville. This is vital in helping ensure polluters cannot argue that waste minimisation and pollution control techniques and technologies are too expensive.

We often hear from mainstream industry about the cost of environmental standards. But reducing pollution also cuts costs. The new directive will help make European industries more competitive, not less.

Waste minimisation projects have proved that costs can be cut and competitiveness improved through waste reduction and recycling, using less materials and improving energy efficiency. The initiatives made cash savings very quickly.

A 1994 World Bank policy research working paper, Competitiveness and Environmental Standards, found that `contrary to common perceptions, higher environmental standards in industrial companies have not tended to lower their international competitiveness’.

The environmental technology and services industry has a vital role to play in making IPPC a success. As we develop and begin to implement the standards and technical guidance we must maintain a three-way dialogue between the regulators, the regulated and the solutions providers. Only then will the environment and mainstream industry reap the benefits of the best available techniques.

Merlin Hyman is Deputy Director of the Environmental Industries Commission