EVERY single business in Scotland is to be put on written warning by the country's environmental protection watchdog that if they fail to respect the environment they will suffer.

Terry A’Hearn, the head of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), will tell all companies in Scotland that if they don't cut waste and pollution they will risk going out of business.

A’Hearn will be writing to 50 trade associations - representing every business in Scotland - as well as environmental groups and regulatory agencies setting out Sepa’s plans for “one planet prosperity”. The rate at which the world is using natural resources is unsustainable because it needs three planets, he says.

Progressive businesses will see environmental excellence as an opportunity, not a problem, says a draft letter from A’Hearn. “The most successful businesses in the future will be those that are not just legally compliant, but which are also low carbon, low material use, low water use and low waste.”

Over the next three years Sepa will be developing 40 sector plans to encourage businesses in Scotland to go “beyond compliance”. The first five will cover fish farming, whisky, oil and gas decommissioning, landfill sites and metals recycling.

The sector plans will make life easier for responsible businesses but harder for irresponsible businesses, A’Hearn will tell companies. “The majority of business trying to do the right thing will benefit; the minority of businesses trying to do the wrong thing will suffer.”

In an interview for today's Sunday Herald, he also suggests that companies that keep breaking environmental rules “ultimately need to be out of business”. If they abuse the environment, they’ll end up being unable to sell anything, he says.

“If you want to damage the Scottish environment you will get the toughest, nastiest regulator that you can get,” A’Hearn warns. “If you want to do great things, work out how to be zero carbon, you’ll get a friendly, helpful regulator.”

To support Sepa’s 'one planet prosperity' initiative, A’Hearn is setting up an international advisory panel. The aim is to get Sepa’s message heard by executives in boardrooms, he says.

The key to achieving Sepa’s ambition is “world-class innovation”, he suggests. “Sepa wants to bring some of the best expertise in the world to Scotland to combine with our local expertise to create innovation in environmental excellence.”

The panel will include the former vice president of the US chemical giant Dupont and environmental stewardship champion, Paul Tebo; the president of the Global Footprint Network think tank, Mathis Wackernagel; and sustainable business advisers Bob Welsh and Polly Courtice.

Sepa’s plans have been welcomed by businesses and environmentalists. “Many businesses are acting on the need to provide a sustainable environment for society, from internal carbon prices, to zero waste targets,” says the director of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, Hugh Aitken.

“They know that this is not only good for the future of Scotland’s stunning environment, but also their bottom line. Business will welcome the opportunity to work with Sepa to ensure a smart and sustainable regulatory environment as well.”

According to Friends of the Earth Scotland, Sepa’s new approach promised a crackdown on environmental cheats. “Companies who don’t care about the environment need to know they will feel the full force of the law, those that want to do the best they can need to know they can ask for help,” said the group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.

“We also welcome the extra attention being directed at problem sectors like fish farming and landfills, where some companies repeatedly break the rules. In a situation of limited resources it makes sense to prioritise the sectors and companies who already have a poor record, maximising the protection for the communities which have to put up with them.”