Despite ministerial exhortation - notably from Michael Heseltine, both as Secretary of State for the Environment and as President of the Board of Trade - Britain is lagging far behind Germany, the United States and Japan in its development and export of pollution control equipment, according to a survey published today.
The world market for environmental products and services, currently dollars 200bn (pounds 134bn), is expected to grow to dollars 600bn by the year 2000. Yet most of the British companies involved are small - 70 per cent have a turnover of under pounds 5m - and have failed to make significant in-roads into the export market - 70 per cent earn less than a quarter of their sales from exports, and only 3 per cent earn more than three-quarters of their income from overseas.
Germany's share of the world market for environmental technology is 21 per cent, followed by the US with 16 per cent and Japan with 13 per cent. Britain's share is estimated at between 1 and 2 per cent.
The survey, from Environmental Policy Consultants, was commissioned by Environmental Technology 94, the industry exhibition in Birmingham in March, and is based on returns from 300 companies.
Adrian Wilkes, the survey's author, described the new markets for green technology as a 'commercial goldmine' that would be lost to foreign competitors without more government support.
The survey found the main barrier to growth in the UK market was the recession - it was cited by 56 per cent of companies. Next came lack of government incentives to invest in new technology (41 per cent), inadequate enforcement of environmental regulations (35 per cent), weak environmental laws (29 per cent), and lack of awareness of commercial benefits (28 per cent).
On the other hand, 76 per cent of companies said the driving force behind a growth in the market should be British legislation, while 61 per cent said legislation should come from the European Union.
Also cited were companies' internal environmental policies (37 per cent) and consumer pressure (18 per cent), while 68 per cent of the respondents thought the Government was not doing enough to support the industry.
Despite complaints from the water industry about the huge costs of meeting European environmental laws, pollution control was a 'zero-sum game', the survey concluded - one company's costs are another's income and jobs.
Pressure for cleaner technologies was now irresistible, according to the survey. This is backed up by a European Commission study, which highlighted the benefits of being a 'first-mover' - pioneering new standards that other industries are eventually forced to follow. For an example, it pointed to the Swedish pulp and paper industry's investments in chlorine effluent reduction.
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