ACBE was set up in 1991 to promote a strategic dialogue between the Government and business on environmental issues. Its first Chairman was John Collins, Chief Executive of Shell UK. His successor is Derek Wanless, Chief Executive of National Westminster Bank.
ACBE's first two reports contained several recommendations, notably on transport and energy policy, which many environmentalists would have welcomed but proved not to the Government's taste. One of its successes has been to persuade the Government to sponsor a series of local "green clubs" to promulgate the environmental message to smaller businesses (ENDS Report 222, pp 3-4 ).
ACBE's latest report contains further recommendations on energy efficiency in domestic and commercial buildings and the Government's response to these. It also reviews progress on its earlier recommendations.
Very little has come of these promises. Only the Chemical Industries Association has volunteered to introduce energy saving targets and performance measures for its member firms. And the report notes that, after discussions with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, ACBE "has not been able to persuade it to meet an earlier target."
ACBE has now passed the buck for developing targets for industry to the Energy Efficiency Office. It has also urged the Government to get the 1,400 or so companies and public bodies which have signed up to the "Making a Corporate Commitment" energy saving campaign to announce both their targets and performance publicly.
The foundations of the programme sought by ACBE are tougher regulation of energy efficiency in new dwellings, coupled with voluntary and then mandatory energy ratings on existing buildings when they are sold. Thereafter, investments in energy savings "will need to be triggered by economic instruments to overcome the inertia which prevents action."
The Government's response is lukewarm. It makes no direct comment on ACBE's recommendation that its proposed insulation standards for new homes should be tightened. Progress in voluntary energy rating of existing dwellings will have to be assessed before mandatory ratings are considered. And two of ACBE's three recommended economic instruments - tax relief on loans for energy saving investments, and exemptions from stamp duty for properties with energy ratings - have been rejected. The idea of universal grants for cost-effective conservation measures identified by energy ratings has been passed to the Energy Saving Trust.
Among the extra measures advocated by the report are mandatory energy statements for both new and existing commercial premises, paving the way in due course to a legal maximum energy consumption for new offices. Voluntary and then mandatory energy labelling of office appliances, which currently display a "wide range of energy intensity", and loans and capital allowances for energy efficiency investments also form part of the package.
Again the Government's response is unenthusiastic. Mandatory energy statements, it says, will need very careful consideration, "especially in the context of deregulation." Appliance labelling is supported in principle, although getting agreement on this at EC level will take some time. And the idea of special reliefs and allowances is rejected.
The report, though, also urges the Government to reconsider whether its target to recycle 50% of recyclable household waste by 2000 is the soundest environmental option.
On glass recycling, the report says that retailers could do "much more", for example by asking their wine suppliers to switch from green to clear bottles. And ACBE is also convinced that newspaper publishers could do much better than their target to use 40% recycled fibre by 2000, and recommends that this should be raised closer to 60% and given legal backing.