U.K. Businesses Urged to Help Manage Water, Woods, Farm Waste

The U.K. should better manage its woodlands and water cycle and do more to convert farm waste into gas to feed the grid and power turbines, a panel of business leaders said.

The measures are among five areas highlighted in a report today by the Ecosystems Markets Task Force, which was set up by the government to tap opportunities to profit by using resources better. Property developers who conserve wildlife should be rewarded with streamlined planning rules, and product labels should include the environmental costs of goods, the panel said.

The government wants to enlist businesses to help protect the country’s natural assets. At a United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro in June, more than 50 nations and 86 companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Unilever NV, declared support for natural capital accounting, a measure of wealth that includes assets such as soils, watersheds and fisheries.

“If we get businesses to stop and think about how their business model is really dependent on natural systems, that would be a big step forward,” Kingfisher Plc Chief Executive Officer Ian Cheshire, who chaired the task force, said in a briefing in London.

As natural resources are depleted, governments are more likely to impose costly regulations on business, he said. “If you don’t think about changing your business model, it will probably get changed for you.”

The panel included executives from Unilever, United Utilities Group Plc and Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover unit.

Water Management

The group recommended better management of all areas of the water cycle, including farm run-off, treatment works, and flood defenses. Cheshire said promoting permeable paving could reduce the risk of flash floods, while giving incentives to farmers to cut agricultural pollution could lower treatment costs.

It also said Britain should spur local wood-fuel markets that could generate 1 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) for the economy by 2020, supporting 15,300 jobs.

Developing anaerobic digestion in farms to break down agricultural slurry and manure into fuel gas could cut methane emissions, supply heat and electricity totaling 4.5 percent of Britain’s renewable energy requirements, and the resulting “digestate” could be used instead of fertilizer, according to the report.

The panel recommended the development of products that are fully recyclable, citing a plan by Coca-Cola Co. to recycle plastic bottles into seats for Rio’s new Maracana stadium.

The government will respond to the recommendations formally in summer, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said in an e-mailed statement. The U.K. on June 20 said all public companies must report their greenhouse gas emissions by April.

“We need to find something that goes beyond just the greenhouse gas accounting,” Cheshire said. “The whole idea of natural capital is much tougher.”

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