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  • Opinion: Plastic distraction - where now for Government's 25 year Environment Plan? Politics
    Opinion: Plastic distraction - where now for Government's 25 year Environment Plan?

    Former Environment Agency boss Professor Paul Leinster and Professor Leon Terry wonder where all the attention on plastic pollution has left the 25 year Environment Plan.....

    The 25 year Environment Plan was long-awaited, and much needed in terms of setting out a vision and direction, a spur to firm planning and action ('A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment': There's a bold statement of intent, for us to become: "the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than that in which we found it".

    Paul LeinstermainBut it's now come and gone, mostly submerged beneath the attention paid to the 'war on plastics'. The launch successfully tapped into the popular consciousness via the Blue Planet factor, but where does this approach leave all the major aims and objectives of the Plan?

    Most significantly, there's the central concept of 'natural capital' - the nation's stock of land, minerals, forests, rivers and oceans - which needs wide understanding and support. The Plan itself fully embraces the idea, recognising the importance of ensuring the natural environmental assets that we all depend on are properly accounted for, and the assessment is used to inform the country's economic activities, including industry, infrastructure, land management and spatial planning. In the context of setting out post-Brexit priorities, for example, this is the opportunity for the UK to develop a farming and land management payment system, with the protection and improvement of natural assets at its heart.

    This is going to take a shift in attitudes from across the range of stakeholders, including the general public. We need to stop thinking of the environment as the provider of free services. These services are dependent on underpinning natural assets that, at an aggregate level, are declining in value. They will not be able to sustain a given level of services without environmental, health and economic impacts. We also need to move past the typical attitude of the environment as the obstacle to development, as the problem requiring conciliation and concessions, but as one of the assets we're working with and benefiting from.

    Leon Terry cropped2 copyNatural capital requires systems and integrated thinking for opportunities to be identified. So, for example, why shouldn't farmers be paid for allowing their land to act as flood plains, diverting water away from homes and businesses? In this way they are providing 'public goods' of a particular value, that have the potential to make huge savings for public services and individuals. If landowners are incentivised to restore peatlands and uplands then there can be less soil erosion, reduced amounts of nutrients in water systems, and less need for water treatment.

    Of course, organisations and landowners can't be paid to comply with the law - this is something different, a recognition that protecting and improving natural assets can lead to tangible benefits with a clear and measurable economic return.

    Natural assets need to be included on balance sheets in the same way as any other assets an organisation has. There should also be an associated risk register and action plan to ensure that these assets are properly maintained. Natural assets often provide multiple benefits and these can be location dependent. For example trees provide timber, areas for recreation, contributing to health and wellbeing, carbon sequestration and flood risk reduction.

    An important aspect in taking forward the 25 year Environment Plan will be to identify what success looks like in 25 years' time and how this will be measured. It will also be important to identify associated intermediate milestones that will provide check points on the progress being made, and there's robust governance to oversee the implementation.

    A number of Pioneer projects testing the principles of a natural capital approach have been running since 2016: a river catchment (Cumbria), an urban area (Manchester), a landscape-based area (north Devon) and marine areas (Devon and Suffolk), all of which have delivered insights into how the theory works in practice and a template for moving forward. A workbook has been created for planners, landowners, councils and communities:

    No-one would deny the seriousness of the amount of plastic wastes ending up in the world's oceans, but this is only one of the challenges that needs to be addressed if the Government's central pledge is to be realised.

    • Article by Professor Paul Leinster, Professor of Environmental Assessment, Cranfield University (member of the Natural Capital Committee and former Chief Executive of the Environment Agency) and Professor Leon Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood, Cranfield University,

  • MPs yearn for climate change talks but constituents unconcerned Politics
    MPs yearn for climate change talks but constituents unconcerned

    A university and think tank study of MPs has found that the issue of climate change rarely features amongst their constituents, who nevertheless respond to issues such as plastic pollution in the oceans following the BBC's Blue Planet II series or Sky Ocean Rescue initiatives. The study outlines approaches that may change this situation.

  • NE English £9.8m demo project set to incentivise rapid impact of electric vehicles on grid Transport
    NE English £9.8m demo project set to incentivise rapid impact of electric vehicles on grid

    Successfully managing the electric grid impact of the rapid growth of electric vehicles, anticipated in the UK, has come a step closer with the announcement of a £9.8 million Government funded Vehicle-to-Grid demonstrator project, led by Nissan and including energy firms and academia - which offers incentives to fleet and private owners.

  • Food waste superstore opens fifth outlet in Merseyside Food
    Food waste superstore opens fifth outlet in Merseyside

    A need for North West England's food manufacturers to tackle their edible waste has led to Company Shop, the UK's largest redistributor of surplus food and household products, opening its 5th new superstore in St Helens, Merseyside.

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Water treatment company cycles more than the equivalent of the circumference of the earth for charity

A water re-use company has notched up an impressive 40,382km by bicycle in 2017, for a national charity.

Sixteen employees from Aquabio Ltd – based in Worcester – have collectively cycled more than the equivalent of the circumference of the planet, equating to a charitable donation of £1009.55 for cycling charity Sustrans. The scheme is part of Aquabio's wider corporate social responsibility campaign.

As part of this, the company set up a scheme called Sustainability and Health in Future Transport – or SHIFT - in 2017; the initiative involves Aquabio employees logging their kilometres with Strava while cycling to work and for leisure, and for every kilometre cycled, Aquabio donates 2.5 pence to Sustrans, a charity that makes it easier for people to walk and cycle.

aquabio charity donate Sustrans copyMore than 1000 Aquabio commutes took place by bicycle over the year, mostly from Worcester to the head office in Hallow, and from Boston in Lincolnshire to one of its operational sites. There were also longer commutes to the office from places as far afield as Wednesbury, Cannock, West Bromwich and Rowley Regis. A number of employees also combined train travel with cycling. During 2017, 4 new bikes were purchased and the scheme was applauded by a Health, Safety and Environmental Audit from Achilles, an independent organisation that identifies and manages risk.

Sustrans works with a number of corporate sponsors including The People's Health Trust, which empowers communities to reclaim their streets and public spaces; Wiggle Legal, designed to help cyclists back on their bikes after an accident; cycling holiday company Saddle Skedaddle; Cravendale; Halfords; Triodos Bank and green energy company Tonik.

The company's aim is to support a better future for cycling.

Strava Insights for the UK show that in 2016 an average of 223,376 commutes were uploaded to Strava every week, with cyclists logging an average distance of 13.5km and an average of 35 minutes in the saddle. In 2015, the first ever Strava Challenge to ride to work saw a total of 79,879 cycling commute activities logged on Strava across 180 countries; as a result, 514.51 tonnes of carbon emissions were offset on the day.

Based on 20,000 km commuted at an average of 118g/km of CO2 – 201 European average – Aquabio employees saved 2,300 kg of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

Dan Brothwell, General Manager at Aquabio said : "Even as the days shortened and the temperature dropped during the end of last year, the cumulative distance continued to increase, resulting in the impressive, and surprising, statistic of cycling around the planet.

"Our SHIFT initiative will continue in 2018 when we will be giving some thought to restructuring it with the aim of getting more people switching modes of transport for more sustainable ones. We look forward to sharing our stories with other companies and local government, with the aim of encouraging other local businesses to make the SHIFT, and support their employees to make a healthier choice, and take a small step in improving air quality and congestion in Worcester, and beyond."

Councillor Matthew Jenkins for the St Stephen's area of the city said : ""The SHIFT initiative is a great idea to get more of Aquabio's employees cycling and hopefully one that other companies can copy. Worcester has huge problems with congestion, whilst there are many residents who want to cycle but don't. Our local councils can help make cycling easier in and around Worcester and my hope is that as more companies emulate Aquabio's approach there will be more pressure placed on the city and county councils to promote cycling more."