The Prime Minister’s confirmation last week that we will have the first Environment Bill in over 20 years was obviously a significant moment. Hugely welcome though it was, there are far more questions than answers at this stage. What will be included and what will it seek to achieve, given such divided opinions in the PM’s own party around environmental safeguards post-Brexit?

The 25 Year Environment Plan is clearly the starting point, and post-Brexit governance the pressing context. There will be strong representations from all of us green campaigners for the Bill to tackle air quality, natural resources, waste, agriculture, energy and more.

But, let’s be honest, it’s going to be messy. It seems to me that what would be helpful is a common thread, a big idea that can weave the disparate elements together and reinforce purpose. government’s oft-repeated aim of leaving the environment in a better state than we found it is a great start – but it doesn’t provide a framework for action.

By coincidence, on the same day as the PM’s announcement, we launched UKGBC’s new Circular Economy programme. It strikes me that Circular Economy principles – beyond just material reuse – could provide a powerful focal point for elements of the bill. The idea of course, is an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design – a concept that is undeniably compelling.

I think the biggest opportunity, and why it should appeal to green Conservatives, is that it puts the relationship between economy and environment at the centre. Rather than promoting a model in which it’s business-as-usual, just with greater environmental safeguards – effectively doing ‘less bad’ – it actively seeks a model in which economic growth is entirely decoupled from resource use, and value is derived by business from creating ‘net good’.

When debating the topic last week with our new local network in Bristol, it became clear that there was strong potential (perhaps even critical need) for this to be embraced by core business functions, beyond the usual sustainability suspects. Viewed through the right lens, circular principles are about avoiding costs, mitigating risk, providing new value for key stakeholders and capitalising on entirely new business models.

For policy-makers, the concept could be similarly attractive. Not only can it help frame environmental and resource protection, but be a driver for productivity and innovation, with regulation helping to harness the power of the market.

Precisely how that is done in our sector, construction and property, is still an open question. I look forward to our Programme helping to answer that, and – I hope – utilising the once-in-a-generation opportunity that the Environment Bill provides.

To see more of our work on our Circular Economy Programme, see here.

“In a spin: Could the Circular Economy give the Environment Bill the focal point it needs?” was originally published by BusinessGreen on July 24, 2018.

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