By Claire West

A comprehensive review of industry's environmental performance in England and Wales was today published by the Environment Agency. It shows that most of industry is improving, even during difficult economic times. It also shows that some sectors still need to do better.

The majority of operators are doing well. More than half (55 per cent) of the sites regulated by the Environment Agency achieved the top 'A' rating, up from 47 per cent last year. Industrial sites are inspected by the Environment Agency and rated on a scale from A to E for their environmental performance and management. Nearly nine out of ten were in the top two bands.

Waste sites have the most serious (category one and two) pollution incidents of the sectors regulated by the EA. They cause around half of all the serious incidents occurring on regulated sites.

The new research also highlights that illegal waste activity is a serious risk to the environment. Waste that is not disposed of properly by illegal operators can have serious environmental consequences and can blight local communities. The Environment Agency has identified over 800 illegal waste sites, over 350 of which are operating within 50 metres of schools, homes or sensitive environmental sites.

In fact, the analysis indicates that for every ten legal waste sites, there is another operating illegally. The Environment Agency today pledged to continue to crackdown on these illegal sites and urged all waste producers to take responsibility for ensuring they deal only with legitimate waste and skip companies.

The number of serious industrial pollution incidents has fallen by over 30 per cent in the last five years - down from 600 incidents per year to just under 400. And emissions associated with global warming fell sharply last year in the energy sector.

The energy sector is still the biggest source of emissions from regulated sites, with 75 per cent of greenhouse gases, 82 per cent of nitrogen oxides and 75 per cent of sulphur oxides. Each of these has reduced substantially over the last decade and the energy sector is well-managed.

The Greener Business report provides vital evidence for the Environment Agency and business to guide their priorities over the next 5 years.

The Environment Agency will be focusing its regulatory efforts on working with the poorest performing sectors and organisations to provide advice and guidance and will carry out more regular inspections of such sites. Those organisations that perform well will have fewer inspections - reducing the administrative burden and associated costs.

Dr Paul Leinster, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said:

"Our analysis shows that most companies have a good environmental record, despite the difficult economic conditions. And serious pollution incidents have reduced significantly in the last five years. Green business is good business because it can help reduce costs and enhances reputation with customers.

"But we will continue to target the poor performing companies and illegal activities that cause damage to the environment and pose a risk to communities. There are still too many pollution incidents in the waste industries and we will be working with companies to clean up their act.

"We'll continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to illegal waste sites. We have stopped activities on 2,000 sites in the last two years, but continue to work with the police and other agencies to gather intelligence and target these illegal operations. However, producers of waste; businesses, public sector organisations, local authorities and householders also have a role to play by making sure their waste goes only to legitimate and licensed waste management operators".