Smarter Environmental Regulation Review meeting – 19th Sept 2012, Cardinal Place, London

Before joining Microsoft I have experienced life working for a local authority and also the Environment Agency so environmental regulations are no stranger to me. There are hundreds, nay thousands of them (including 1000 pieces of legislation, 2000 guidance documents, and 250 reporting requirements) so things can get a bit complex for those being regulated and even the regulators themselves.

But without these sometimes complicated but vital rules placed on our organisations, this country would be in a very tragic environmental state indeed.

So, like all aspects of government recently it seems, a review is needed to work out smarter ways of making regulation easier to understand, easier to adopt and easier to find information about.

To tackle the nitty gritty of the regulations review, a panel debate was called by the Aldersgate Group (an alliance of leaders from a wide range of UK organisations who drive action for a sustainable economy) and Defra. Hosted by Microsoft at our Cardinal Place offices in London, a packed room full of folks from business, politics and society listened intently to thoughts from the panel which included:

  • Paul Leinster, Chief Executive, Environment Agency
  • Sonia Phippard, Director, Defra
  • Hugh Milward, Director for Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft
  • Etienne Pollard, Deputy Director, Government Digital Service
  • Robert Hunt, Executive Director, Veolia
  • Peter Young, Chairman, Aldersgate Group (Chair)

The event only lasted for a couple of hours but quite a few excellent points were addressed by the panel. The background to this subject was laid out beautifully by Environment Agency Chief Exec Paul Leinster stating that there was “a tremendous internal drive to improve” in his organisation, that they “must reduce bueuracracy” and “we must make it easier for those who are being regulated” to find important information.

A large portion of a successful revision of environmental regulations and the way they are communicated hangs around how accessible they are online. Etienne Pollard, Deputy Director of the Government Digital Service, explained how the new website will be replacing the and Business Link websites in October to make one easier to manage and use single platform.

So what makes this revision of environmental regulations different to past reviews? According to Sonia Phippard from Defra, the answer is easy – “this has been a comprehensive exercise unlike before” and “some of the IT opportunities are different”. “There is the opportunity to deliver a different type of service due to technology which didn’t exist until recently” she said.

On the subject of IT advances, the cloud obviously offers potentially great cost savings and provide more topical benefits for businesses. As Microsoft’s new Director for Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, Hugh Milward suggested: “Cloud solutions can help companies meet environment regulations, by off-siting storage and processing.  But at the moment, cloud providers are being hammered for the resulting carbon increases, even though there is a system-wide reduction. It's a real barrier for cloud providers.”.

Microsoft itself has announced that it is committed to becoming carbon neutral as soon as possible. And these environmental considerations are reflected on the software side too with the new Windows 8 using 30% less energy than Windows XP.

So what about the future for this review? What’s the next step? Well, by the sounds of things, the government are open to helpful ideas and suggestions from everyone. They have a way forward and that direction is using common sense and advances in IT to bring about this new generation in environmental regulations. Certainly things are going to get much easier to find regulatory information and underpinning some of this development will probably be the cloud in some form.

Posted by Howard - Microsoft UK Public Sector Content and Communities Manager

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