The United Kingdom has the lowest expenditure per capita on environmental research and development of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, MPs were told this week.
The Economic and Social Research Council's global environmental change programme (GECP) told the environmental audit select committee that British companies had little incentive to pursue environmental innovation and therefore it was not central to their strategy.
Dennis Anderson, a professor at Imperial College, produced evidence that put the UK in last place in environmental expenditure among highly industrialised countries. He also noted that unlike most of these countries, Britain did not have an active environmental policy.
Frans Berkhout, a co-director of the GECP, cited Rover and British Nuclear Fuels as companies with limited emphasis on environmental research and development, which, he argued, was dangerous for British industry. "If Rover had been a superbly innovative company, it might not be in the straits it is in now," he said.
The group also performed extensive research on the "greening" of businesses in the country. "There's been a lot of greening going on but it's been largely superficial," said Dr Berkhout.
The research findings conclude that public responsibility alone does not prompt companies to become more environmentally friendly. Paul Ekins, a lecturer in environmental social services at Keele University said technological innovation was driven solely by cost savings and increases in profit.
The GECP listed as solutions environmental taxation, regulation and other incentives to pursue R&D.