Innovation and product development - sustainable ways of working
Innovative technologies, products, processes or services may improve your business. Some 'green technologies' may also benefit the environment and are supported by the environmental regulators.
However, before you use or develop innovative technologies or products of any type you need to consider their environmental impacts. The impacts of innovation can be unknown and you may need to take steps to comply with the law and protect the environment.
Examples of business and technological innovation include new:
- uses of waste
- waste recycling or reprocessing activities
- waste water treatment methods
- approaches to cleaning up land contamination or water pollution
- environmental and clean technologies
- uses of chemistry and chemicals
- uses of biotechnology or nanotechnology.
If you are considering developing or using innovative products or processes, you should contact your environmental regulator as early as possible so that they can advise if there is anything you need to do, before you invest any money. You must make sure that you have all the appropriate permits, licences and exemptions in place before you start developing your product or process and trialling activities.
Designing and manufacturing a new product
When designing any new product you should consider the whole product life cycle. This means looking at the product's impact on the environment at each stage of its life, including its design, manufacture, distribution, use and how it will be finally disposed of at the end of its life.
If you make, fill, sell or handle packaging or packaging materials you must comply with packaging regulations.
If you plan to manufacture new electrical or electronic equipment or battery powered products, you must comply with certain legislation.
- Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)
- Restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS)
- Energy labelling and energy efficient design
If your activities involve using or manufacturing chemical substances, you must comply with the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation. If you have an unusual use for a substance, you should provide your suppliers with details of how you intend to use the chemical. This will allow them to include this information in their registration under REACH. You can choose not to give your suppliers this information if you feel it will compromise your business. In this case you must carry out your own chemical safety assessment. You must provide this information to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
You may also need to meet other requirements, depending on your activity and the type of chemical substances that you are using or manufacturing.
- Ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and fluorinated gases (F-gases)
- Pesticides and biocides
- Solvent emissions
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE): Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
- HSE: Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures Regulations
When you market and label your products you must present the environmental aspects of your product accurately.
Environmental and clean technology
Environmental and clean technologies are products or services that reduce the risk of harming the environment, minimise pollution, minimise the amount of materials used or correct environmental damage. You may be able to improve your products or services by switching to alternative clean technologies.
Nanotechnology, or nanoscience, involves manipulating atoms and molecules to enhance materials or products, for example to create strong lightweight materials. Nanotechnology may be beneficial for product development, but the risks to the environment also need to be managed.
In Scotland, SEPA is considering classifying unbound carbon nanotube waste as special waste. Carbon nanotubes are used in materials, electronics and optics due to their exceptional strength and properties as conductors of heat.
Field trials and testing your new process or technology
If you have developed a new process or technology you may need approval from your environmental regulator to test or use it. Your environmental regulator will assess innovative technology on an individual basis. Be aware that your environmental regulator cannot endorse particular businesses or products.
You may not need permission from your environmental regulator to carry out a trial. However, it is an offence to cause pollution and you could be prosecuted.
If you plan to carry out field trials on your product or process you should contact your environmental regulator's local office. If you plan to run trials in two areas you will need to contact both area offices. You should let the area offices know that you are also speaking to another office.
If your environmental regulator needs to test the environmental impact of your product or process, you will have to stop using and developing it while they carry out the assessment. To minimise lost time you should:
- contact your environmental regulator as early as possible
- be ready to give all the information needed as quickly as possible, eg chemical descriptions of the product and past trials.
You can ask your environmental regulator to sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure neither they, nor others they may involve in the test, use your ideas and information.
Waste controls on your activities
If any of your business activities produce waste, including waste from research or trials, you need to comply with your duty of care.
If your waste is classed as hazardous/special waste extra requirements will apply.
If you store, treat or dispose of waste, even as part of research or trials, you may need a permit, licence or exemption from your environmental regulator. You must have the appropriate paperwork in place before you start your activities.
If your activity is considered to pose a low risk to the environment, instead of requiring a permit or a licence you may be covered by a:
- waste exemption
- regulatory position statement.
If you store samples of waste for testing or research, a paragraph 38 waste exemption may apply to you. In Scotland you can store up to 10 tonnes of waste samples at the site where they are to be tested. In Northern Ireland there is no limit on the quantity of samples you can store.
If you burn waste, the Waste Incineration Directive (WID) is likely to apply to you. You may need a pollution prevention and control permit.
If you carry out research or burn certain types of waste, you may be excluded from WID. Experimental plants used for research, development and testing to improve the incineration process are excluded from WID if they burn less than 50 tonnes of waste per year. However, even if you are excluded from WID, you may still require a permit, licence or exemption.
Controlling air pollution
If your activities release air pollutants into the environment, you may be committing an offence. You must get written authorisation from your environmental regulator or local council if your activities are likely to result in releasing emissions to air.
Preventing water pollution
If your activities pollute the water environment you are committing an offence. You may need authorisation from your environmental regulator before you discharge anything to surface waters or ground waters.
Before you take water directly from surface waters or ground waters, you may need an abstraction licence. This includes taking or diverting water from rivers, streams, canals, lakes, springs, wells, boreholes, coastal waters and estuaries. You will not need an abstraction licence if you only use water from the mains supply.
If you intend to impound (hold back and store) water on or from a watercourse, for example to create a reservoir or build or alter any type of dam, weir or other impounding works, you may need a licence to impound water from your environmental regulator.
Further information on innovation
The main source of funding to help businesses innovate is through the technology strategy board and its knowledge transfer networks.
The Eco-innovation Observatory is a European network that collects and analyses eco-innovation information from across Europe and around the world.
- Carbon Trust: Innovations
- Contact your environmental regulator
- HSE: Nanotechnologies
- GOV.UK: Nanotechnology strategy forum
- Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)
- GOV.UK: Green claims code
- Invest Northern Ireland
- Queen's University Environmental Science and Technology Research Centre (QUESTOR)
- Highlands and Islands Enterprise
- Interface (Scotland)
- Scottish Enterprise
- Scottish Government: Science, technology and innovation
- Hydronation water innovation service
Waste permits, licences and exemptions
- Waste management licensing
- Pollution prevention control permits
- SEPA: Activities exempt from waste management licensing
- SEPA: waste guidance including position statements
- Waste management licensing
- Pollution prevention control permits
- Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA): Activities exempt from waste management licensing
- NIEA: Position statements
If you intend to treat and use certain construction wastes your activity may be covered by either a paragraph 13, 19 or 24 exemption.
If you intend to repair and refurbish waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) your activity may be covered by a paragraph 47 exemption in Scotland, and a paragraph 49 exemption in Northern Ireland.
Disposing of waste
If you intend to spread waste onto land to restore or improve the land, you may be covered by an exemption. There are exemptions covering certain waste types and certain land types. These include paragraphs 9, 10 and 11 in Northern Ireland, and paragraphs 7, 8 and 9 in Scotland.
Knowledge transfer networks
- Knowledge Transfer Network: Chemistry innovation
- Knowledge Transfer Network: Electronics
- Knowledge Transfer Network: Health technologies
- Knowledge Transfer Network: Modern built environment
SEE ALSO: Towards a circular economy