Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Roughly this time last year, our business blog started to talk about the concept of zero waste, and highlighted the opportunities that moving to a zero waste society can create for businesses across Scotland. As we reach the final stage of the transition period I want to follow on from where that blog left off and talk about the exciting opportunities that the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Plan creates for businesses.

The Zero Waste Plan highlights how we all have an important part to play in creating a zero waste society. It outlines how there is a need to maximise resource efficiency by reusing and recycling more things more often and it shows the environmental and economic advantages that can be created by promoting a Greener Scotland. Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs for future generations, and the Zero Waste Plan outlines how a win win scenario can be created for businesses that look to reduce their costs by becoming more resource efficient.

Recent research shows that if Scottish businesses put some simple waste reduction measures in place, then there is the potential for them to save about 1% of their annual turnover.  That would equate to over £2 billion if all of Scotland’s businesses took the same approach. Iain Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Businesses must overcome the perception that going green adds cost – the opposite is true. Those companies that have addressed their environmental performance with even small changes have measured savings in their bottom line.

Zero Waste Scotland is the delivery body that has been put in place to help deliver the Zero Waste Plan and help promote waste reduction behaviour across Scotland. This provides a wide range of advice for a variety of different groups including communities, individuals and businesses. There is a vast quantity of advice and assistance available to those businesses that are looking to take initial steps in promoting resource efficiency, as well as for those who are progressing nicely along their journey towards a more sustainable business.

The new Zero Waste Scotland website is full of information for both large and small businesses looking to reduce their waste and use resources more efficiently. Don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself.


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The start of 2011 has seen panda – monium come to Scotland. I am not referring to any weather related issues that you usually see plastering the headlines at this time of year; I am in fact referring to the arrival of two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo.  Tain Tain and Yanguang together make a breeding pair of giant pandas that have been loaned to the zoo for ten years and, although they don’t know it themselves, highlight exciting ties between Scotland and China.

David Windmill, chief executive officer of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said: “This is a landmark day for RZSS, Edinburgh Zoo, the UK and China.

“It represents the beginning of a programme of research, education and partnership and the project has huge benefit for the UK and Scotland, both in supporting giant panda conservation and in enhancing our programmes in education, science and conservation.”

Pandas were not the only topic of conversation as the Chinese vice premier made his four day state visit to the UK. Renewable energy was also discussed in great detail. The result of these talks was an exciting green energy deal initially worth £6.4 million, between a Sino-Scots company and a Dumfriesshire-based engineering firm for processing domestic waste into energy. SHBV of China intends to use Scottish Engineering technology to build a new facility converting domestic waste into energy in China.

Gasification is the process that is used to turn waste into energy. This process involves the controlled combustion of municipal waste at temperatures up to 1400 degrees Centigrade. Burning waste at these kind of temperatures creates a gas call Syngas that is then used to generate electricity.  Scotland opened its first waste gasification plant in 2009. This has the capability of dealing with 60,000 tonnes of hazardous and non hazardous waste and can generate 6.2MW of electricity that is exported to the national grid.

This recent Chinese tour has highlighted Scotland as leaders, not only in environmental conservation, but also in renewable energy and green business. It is important for Scottish businesses to continue to lead the way in green business practices, and Zero Waste Scotland are here to help achieve this as we continue to work towards a Zero Waste Society.

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As a business you may feel that you don’t often get the opportunity to showcase and promote all your efforts in waste reduction.  But, making sure that your employees, customers and the wider public know what you are doing and how you are doing it, not only helps to ensures it’s continuing success, but generates a good reputation and publicity for your organisation too.

One way that you can do this, is to take part in this year’s European Week for Waste Reduction which takes place from the 20th-28th November.  Zero Waste Scotland are acting as the official organisers of the week in Scotland, which aims to raise awareness of ways to minimise our waste and encourage change in everyday behaviour in order to reduce the amount of waste produced across Europe.

You could choose to do an extension of a current waste reduction activity that you are already doing, or you could choose to do something completely different as well, and promote them both.  A European Award for the most outstanding and inspiring waste reduction event is also up for grabs!  Some examples of actions you could do include:

  • Measure food waste created in restaurants, canteens or kitchens and provide tips to staff and customers on how they can reduce their waste
  • Arrange a swap day for reusable items, or an office collection of materials such as household goods, clothes and bric-a-brac for reuse
  • Organise a best ‘waste free’ packed lunch competition
  • Run an office waste campaign, encouraging staff to take action to reduce their household waste
  • Run an office ‘best waste reduction idea’ competition

Whatever you decide to do here at Zero Waste Scotland we can provide support with communication materials, PR, event listings and material on waste reduction.

You will need to register your event by the 5th November, you can do this at www.wasteawarescotland.org.uk where you can also find out more information about the week.  If you have any questions about what’s involved you can also speak to my colleague Ylva Haglund on 01786 468 797, or email her at ylva.haglund@ksbscotland.org.uk

Last year we ran the pilot campaign and 33 actions took place in Scotland with a total of 14 countries and 2,500 actions taking place across Europe.  This year we are on track for even more actions, making the week bigger and better, so why not join in and be a part of this European wide activity!

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And that’s the point, if you don’t know, you are better to find out in advance and like any good boy scout, ‘be prepared’. 

Adapting to Climate Change: A Guide for Businesses in Scotland, was launched last month by the Scottish Climate Change Impacts Partnership (SCCIP) and is a good starting point if you would like to learn more about the risks and opportunities that climate change may pose to your business.  SCCIP also have a dedicated Private Sector Officer who can offer free guidance and support if you would like some more in depth advice.

Being prepared for climate change can mean anything from assessing the current situation and gaining reassurance that no action is needed, to changing location of your store room to prevent stock from becoming flooded and damaged, to more long term changes like looking at new markets for your goods and services. 

We all contribute to climate change, but we can also all do our bit to try and reduce by how much.  One of our main messages, that everyone can get involved with, is that by reducing the amount of waste you send to landfill, you can reduce the amount of methane gas that is created, which is a major contributor to climate change.

As we all play a part in creating climate change we will all have to deal with the consequences, and warmer, drier summers and milder, wetter winters will affect us all in some way (and not just in terms of how many times you get chance to use the BBQ in one summer!), but only you can tell and plan for the extent of which climate change will influence the future of your business.

A lot less of this...

......could also mean a lot more of this

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A recent opinion poll by BBC Wales showed that a rather large 52% of people think “whatever is done by individuals will make no difference to climate change whilst other countries are using fossil fuels.”

What difference can one person make?

As it happens, these people are quite right. Individuals will not and cannot make any difference to climate change, regardless of whether or not other countries are using fossil fuels. Neither will individuals make any difference to the amount of waste sent to landfill. Each of the 5 million people in Scotland sends an average of 1.5 tonnes to landfill every year year, which results in a combined total of 7.37 million tonnes. Statistically, there is very little difference between “7.37 million tonnes” and “7.37 million tonnes minus 1.5 tonnes“. In fact you would need to use many more than two decimal places to even see a different number.

It’s perfectly natural to think that, because your actions make no noticeable difference to the national or global picture, nothing you do matters very much. Indeed, in some ways this is factually true. After all, it ultimately won’t make any meaningful difference to Scotland or the climate whether you, as an individual, throw all your waste in black bags. You are just a miniscule dot on the statistical landscape.

Clearly, our cumulative actions matter. Scotland as a whole has increased the percentage of waste we compost or recycle to almost 40%. How could we have achieved this without individual actions? Quite obviously we couldn’t. So it seems we have a problem with our perspective. We find it difficult to reconcile the fact that our actions by themselves are insignificant with the fact that they don’t exist in isolation. We consider our actions separately from other peoples’ but we cannot reasonably separate any part of ourselves from society any more than we can separate a fish from its bowl. We are society. The dichotomy between our private and public life causes us to act selfishly through innocent negligence. We forget the part we play because once we enter our own domain we cease to be actively involved in the world around us. We put black bags out for the bin man instead of separating our kerbside waste because we forget that our black bags are everyone’s black bags. We forget to recycle from every room in the house and put paper from our home office into the bin because we don’t think about all the other people doing exactly the same thing. Thousands or even millions of us (perhaps billions globally) recycle less than we could because of a simple human trait: insularity.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. As John Donne wrote in the 16th century.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)

We are all individuals, yet we are none. I’ll leave you with this quote from the 14th Dalai Lama:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

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My job, what I am paid to do, is to promote the idea of responsible waste management to businesses and people in Scotland on behalf of an independent environmental charity (Keep Scotland Beautiful).

You might therefore reasonably think that I am pretty one-sided when it comes to environmental issues and see Copenhagen (aka COP15 – the global conference on climate change currently underway involving 192 nations) as the last great hope for our survival. Not necessarily so, dear reader, for I was brought up to have an open, questioning mind and I too look at newspapers, read articles on the internet, watch television documentaries and I listen to the radio so know that the debate about whether we should be bothering to do anything about climate change, and whether climate change itself is even happening, remains unresolved as far as a lot of people are concerned.

Click to visit the official conference website

Indeed a recent poll (PDF) as reported in The Times under the headline “Global warming is not our fault” suggests that only 41% of people in the UK “accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made.”

This means that 59% of people are unconvinced. Some might have an inkling that something is amiss but they aren’t yet willing to state confidently that they believe man-made global warming needs to be sorted out.

And little wonder. For every message we hear about the importance of reducing energy, water and waste is a potentially conflicting message about the benefits of consumption (for the economy, for jobs, for the country) coupled with a body of scepticism including well-known figures who are quite happy to stand up in public and deny man-made global warming because they believe the science is flawed.

What is an individual person trying to go about their daily life supposed to think? Should we buy new products to help the economy or should we get things repaired or buy second-hand to help the environment? Should we spend time recycling our household or business waste or should we just send it to landfill and let nature take its course? Should we spend extra on train travel or continue to drive? These are real life decisions facing people up and down the country and the combined effect of all these decisions very broadly places each of us into one of several categories:

  1. People who believe the climate is changing as a result of human activity and are actively trying to reduce their own impact.
  2. People who believe the climate is changing as a result of human activity but don’t think individual actions can make that much difference and will wait to see what Government and policy makers decide before acting.
  3. People who believe the climate is changing as a result of human activity but think that trying to resist it is futile in the face of big business determined to maintain economic growth.
  4. People who aren’t sure about climate change and want to see more data to show the truth one way or the other but feel, on balance, that trying to reduce energy, waste and water is probably the best thing to do for the long-term survival of our species.
  5. People who believe that climate change is a distraction from other more pressing issues such as population growth, peak oil, pollution, depletion of raw materials, war, famine etc.
  6. People who do not believe the climate can change as a result of human activities (such as releasing CO2 into the atmosphere) and are ambivalent about the action on climate change.
  7. People who do not believe the climate can change as a result of human activities and think that climate change is a conspiracy to raise taxes and seek global domination.

The truth is that some of us will fall neatly into these categories and others will fall between the gaps or find our viewpoint shifting depending on who we’re listening to at any given moment. What is certain is that it is difficult for people on the ground, “ordinary” members of the public, to know what is right.

My own perspective is that we need to concentrate on facts. Hard evidence should guide our behaviour, not rumour or supposition. Is global warming happening? Is it directly linked to CO2 emissions? One useful source of information I found on the subject is a website called Skeptical Science. I should say from the outset that it tends to support the view that climate change is real and that we are causing it, but it also considers evidence to the contrary. It isn’t afraid to deal with issues such as the recent hacked emails and the potential for this to undermine the science. Other articles on the website look at the “hockey stick” debate which, briefly, is a controversy over a graph produced showing recent dramatic rises in temperature which used different sources of data to plot points on the graph. Some have argued that the sources of the data showing before and after the dramatic rise are so different as to render the whole thing inaccurate. Anyway, I find the website useful and hope you do too. It’s certainly not my only source of such information but it’s consistently thorough.

Back to the point, will the Copenhagen conference change your life? The short answer is: “it already has”. Government policy makes a real difference to people’s lives. In Scotland we have already committed, in the Climate Change Act, to an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050. That’s massive! And it goes further than any global agreement currently in place. In fact it will be amazing if Copenhagen results in anything like that kind of agreement. But Scotland is doing it anyway. That is bold leadership and businesses and households in Scotland will be actively involved in reaching those goals. So your life will change, if it hasn’t already. But is change always bad? Scotland has tremendous renewable energy potential in tide, wind and wave power. It also has limited space for landfill so, climate change or not, placing all our rubbish in holes in the ground isn’t really a long-term solution.

Which brings me on to the other point I wanted to make, it’s not just global warming (whether or not that has been proven) that should impact on our decisions about how we act. There are a multitude of potential effects on our wider environment as a result of things we do. On a basic level it is anti-social to throw litter away because it is unsightly and someone has to clear it up. So it’s not always the environment that dictates our actions. That is why Keep Scotland Beautiful has such an important job to do. Even if we discover tomorrow that CO2 is completely irrelevant to the temperature of the Earth (roughly zero% chance of that happening) it doesn’t mean that power stations don’t pollute the air and make it less safe for nearby residents. It doesn’t mean that the raw materials used to make the products we use everyday aren’t going to eventually run out if we continue to send them to landfill. It doesn’t mean that rubbish from Scotland doesn’t end up in the massive floating plastic island in the pacific which leaches chemicals into the eco-system.

Being green isn’t necessarily about being fixated on one issue. It’s about wanting to preserve the good things that we have so future generations can continue to enjoy them. Pure and simple.

Just looking at the profile of the event in Copenhagen and how many column inches have been written shows how the environmental agenda has been brought to the forefront of people’s minds. And whatever we conclude about the effect of our activities on the wider environment we cannot dispute the importance of at least having the debate. On a practical level it matters hugely that 192 nations are sitting down and having discussions. It will be fascinating to see what they decide.

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