Voluntary schemes not an alternative to regulation

24th November 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • UK government ,
  • Management ,
  • Corporate governance ,
  • Natural resources


Neil Howe

Voluntary approaches to protect the environment have failed, according to the RSPB after a review of more than 150 schemes across several business sectors.

The conservation group undertook the study to fill what it says is a lack of evidence on the value of regulation for protecting the environment.

More than 80% of schemes it assessed performed poorly on at least one measure. Most schemes set unambitious targets, with many also failing to meet these. Many voluntary schemes are undermined by low rates of participation, leaving those who do take part and want to improve their performance at a disadvantage, it found.

An example highlighted by the organisation is the failure of a voluntary scheme for retailers to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags given to customers. Mandatory charges have now been introduced in England after the success of schemes in Wales and Scotland, the RSPB said. Two decades of voluntary approaches to cut the use of peat-based compost had also failed, despite good efforts by some producers and retailers, it said.

The study found no guarantee that costs would be lower under a voluntary approach, since the design, negotiation and implementation can involve considerable expense. "There are limits to what is possible based on voluntarism alone given the commercial pressures that all businesses face," said Donal McCarthy, an economist at the RSPB.

When voluntary schemes do work, it is usually due to a close alignment between commercial drivers and environmental benefits. McCarthy said voluntary schemes need to include clear and credible targets, transparent reporting, independent monitoring and incentives.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Latest environmental legislation round-up

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Dr Julie Riggs issues a call to arms to tackle a modern-day human tragedy

15th March 2024

Read more

The UK’s new biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements could create 15,000 hectares of woodlands, heath, grasslands, and wetlands and absorb 650,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

13th March 2024

Read more

Campaign group Wild Justice has accused the UK government of trying to relax pollution rules for housebuilders “through the backdoor”.

14th February 2024

Read more

Digital tracking, packaging data delays and new collections provide a waste focus for this edition’s environmental round-up by legislation expert Neil Howe

28th November 2023

Read more

Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.

21st November 2023

Read more

Stuart McLachlan and Dean Sanders discuss their book: The Adventure of Sustainable Performance: Beyond ESG Compliance to Leadership in the New Era.

14th November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close