An Overview Of Policy Opportunities

In an earlier chapter I engaged briefly with two aspects of the policy framework through which governments are able to influence the behaviour of industries and consumers. One of these was regulation. The other was the use of financial incentives acting through market mechanisms of one kind and another. I shall have more to say about these two options later on. But these two kinds of policy measures do not exhaust the possible options through which the state can exert influence over individuals and firms.

For a start, governments inevitably form a general policy framework within which industries operate and consumers act. There are a number of ways in which this policy framework can influence environmental performance. Perhaps the single most important first step for governments in addressing the question of material throughput in the economy is to examine existing policies to determine what kind of impact is already being made by this policy framework. Transport policy is one of the areas which was highlighted in the previous chapter. The transport sector not only has considerable impact on the environment, it also offers significant opportunity for innovative system design. Much the same could be said of the energy sector, and the agricultural sector. Planning guidelines and local government policy are also important in reorienting communication networks and negotiating community development. A co-ordinated appraisal of these different policy areas could reveal numerous opportunities for preventive environmental improvement. It could also identify those areas where existing policies are operating against the aims of environmental protection.

The next step might be the formulation of a specific national environmental policy plan with clear long-term goals and interim operational targets. The Dutch National Environmental Policy Plan was probably the first example of such an initiative. Subsequently, there has been some movement towards the development of this kind of framework through government commitments to Agenda 21—the long-term strategy for implementing sustainable development which was initiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development at Rio in 1992. The development of these plans to include specific operational targets and clear strategies for implementation would undoubtedly further the environmental aims of dematerialisation.

The state also has a role to play in the provision of appropriate environmental and technological information and training. There is a wide range of audiences for whom education will be crucial. Governmental commitment to the provision of this education would have major long- and short-term impacts. Some of the specific measures which have been widely discussed are presented in Box 9.

Government expenditure and procurement policies can have significant direct and indirect effects on technology promotion and on environmental performance in the public sector. For instance, government might increase the share of recycled products that are purchased (where these products can be shown to be preferable from an environmental point of view), reduce its use of hazardous materials, install clean technologies in state-owned industries, improve energy efficiency in public sector buildings and so on. These initiatives have a multiplier effect, signalling government commitment, and reinforcing the credibility of technological improvements in environmental performance.

The strategies outlined in this book present quite specific demands for research, development and demonstration programmes. These demands cover a range of research areas. For instance, there are technological opportunities in almost every process industry and every industrial enterprise, large, medium or small. The development of more efficient and inherently cleaner process technologies requires a

BOX 9 INITIATIVES FOR IMPROVED INFORMATION AND

TRAINING

• the promotion of general environmental awareness among consumers;

• advertising campaigns highlighting technical opportunities for reducing environmental burdens (e.g. through energy efficiency);

• the establishment of specific advice centres to provide technical support in the implementation of environmental improvements (e.g. energy efficiency);

• the provision of specific environmental profiles for consumer products and activities (e.g. ecolabelling)

• the establishment of information clearing houses for environmental information, technical assistance, and commercial opportunities;

• the training and co-ordination of specific environmental personnel (advisers, inspectors, information officers) with expertise in both preventive environmental management and process management;

• the development and re-orientation of secondary and higher education programmes to reflect an emphasis on preventive environmental management and appropriate environmental design;

• the development of right-to-know legislation on matters of environmental concern—e.g. the Toxics Release Inventory in the United States;

• the promotion (and possibly co-ordination) of citizens' monitoring initiatives to develop the active participation of members of the public in environmental policy.

commitment of resources in engineering design, which could offer significant environmental and economic dividends. In particular, of course, the reorientation of profitability away from products and towards services will demand completely new kinds of technology: for instance, those related to targeted dosing in agriculture or detergent recovery in cleaning operations.

But it is not just technical research which will be required. There is also a need for methodological research. For instance, techniques are needed which improve our ability to assess the environmental performance of different technologies, products and systems. The evolution of new commercial relationships will impose the need for new economic research. Issues of public acceptability and political feasibility will involve sociological disciplines. The emergence of new legal frameworks and organisational structures will demand institutional research. Governments have a role to play in providing and stimulating appropriate research and development in all of these areas.

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