Posted: 02 Feb 2022 by starindexadmin

When Accountability becomes Law: UK Government passes new legislation to protect the environment

UK Government have been making some large strides since COP26

True to their word, the UK government has been making some large strides towards delivering on the commitments made at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

One move in particular was to pass legislation that makes protecting the natural environment law. At STAR Index, we’re big believers in accountability and these new laws are an encouraging step in the right direction!

The new laws are designed to motivate: improving the quality of the air above our heads, restoring declining natural habitats, increasing levels of biodiversity and adopting new methods that make better use of natural resources while minimising waste.

The end goal is to transform the UK into more of a circular economy that can be a sustainable habitat for people in the years to come. In their current state, first world economies (like the UK) have often been described as “throw-away economies” that produce high levels of refuse. Some of which have to be exported to developing countries.

The new laws will drive change away from harmful and polluting practices with legally binding environmental targets. While legislation is a powerful tool to compel change, the key concept this comes back to is…

Accountability

And this is why the new independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has been set up to hold these laws to account. This new organisation will aim to put an end to vague targets set by public bodies in regards to their environmental commitments.

The Environmental Secretary George Eustice said: “We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.”

Whether or not legislation like this will be widely adopted by the rest of the world remains to be seen. But what is clear is that the UK is prepared to deliver and take action on their commitments.

The new bill has introduced measures that will now make it illegal for larger businesses to use products unless they comply with local laws that protect its natural areas. So products in high demand that are directly linked to deforestation such as: cocoa, rubber, soya and palm oil will be required by law to be responsibly sourced.

As Chair of the Environmental Agency Emma Howard Boyd CBE put it: “We need strong laws, investment by the private sector and clear, well-funded regulation to protect the environment. Without this, we will not see the progress we all want.”

As one might expect, there has since been a direct market response from businesses offering products and services that claim to meet the consumer demand for environmentally sustainable products.

Under the current consumer protection laws, businesses are permitted to make environmental claims provided they don’t mislead consumers unnecessarily. The guidelines state that:

Claims must be completely truthful and accurate
The claim information must be presented clearly without ambiguity
The claim must not hide or omit important facts that are relevant
Any comparisons must be fair and meaningful
The claim must take into account the entire life cycle of the product or service
And all claims must be substantiated

For businesses to ensure they can gather the adequate information to back their claims ultimately comes down to another one of our key principles…

Visibility

Transparency and accuracy are only achieved by mapping a supply chain for its full environmental impact. There are so many interrelated factors at play and every business’ supply chain is by its very nature uniquely complex, therefore it’s critical that businesses have the tools to allow them to achieve this.

The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) will be watching the ensuing environmental claims on products and services very closely to ensure people are not being misled in their decision making process. Despite the clarity of the guidelines, there are still arguably many grey areas in the information provided and room for interpretation in the language being used.

So the CMA will provide additional guidance for advertising, labelling, packaging and other pieces of accompanying information to ensure these materials comply with the new laws in place. The guidance covers both business to consumer claims and business to business claims across sectors and would appear to be knocking specifically on the door of…

Responsibility

For example, it would be grossly irresponsible to label and promote a product as “organic” if only 40% of its total make up is actually from an organic source. Taking creative license and exaggerating truths will not be permitted under these guidelines.

Businesses need to present their claims as accurately and as truthfully as possible. It is important they understand that it’s their responsibility to ensure the claim does not misrepresent or omit any of the important data relating to it.

Commandeering the ESG landscape with its new laws could prove to be a legal minefield for businesses that are unprepared. It’s important for every business to ensure they have the right consultation and the right tools to be legally compliant.

In order to protect your business, understand the compliance landscape, and to ensure your business cannot be accused of ‘greenwashing’ please click the button below to arrange a no obligation discussion.

Independent reviewer Henry Dimbleby’s published report outlined four strategic objectives:

  • Escape the junk food cycle to protect the NHS
  • Reduce diet-related inequality
  • Make the best use of our land and
  • Create a long-term shift in our food culture

The push for mandatory reporting could be the key ingredient to ensure all four objectives have a chance of being successful. There’s no doubt that a positive change in the food industry will require a sizable overhaul in the way food is sourced, manufactured and brought to the consumer. Do we have the time and faith to wait for this to happen on a voluntary basis?

It’s crucial that mandatory reporting laws specify a request for a full transparency of scope 3 emissions of both the supply and value chains. Ambitious targets without rigorous accountability will become yet another example of corporate greenwashing.

So even though the UK government shelved their 2021 plans for more stringent reporting in the food industry, it seems likely that pressure from the coalition of investors could encourage a set of revised policies along these lines in the future.

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