Scottish businesses must harness circular economy opportunities

Zero Waste Scotland has stressed that Scottish businesses must harness circular economy opportunities to tackle global emissions or risk being left behind.

The environmental awareness group said that organisations must do more and re-examine how they produce, consume and dispose of everyday items just to stay in the race. As governments ramp up efforts to meet ambitious environmental targets and consumers demand goods that have minimal impact on the planet, Zero Waste Scotland argues that it is imperative that businesses embrace the circular economy.

Firms achieving a more sustainable way of working would deliver huge results in cutting Scotland’s carbon footprint because four fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint is generated through the heat and energy required to grow, make, process, transport and provide materials that are often tossed aside at the end of their life.

Furthermore, the organisation warns that focusing efforts on making our energy system low carbon will not tackle global emissions alone. Decarbonisation fails to address the demand for raw materials, which are often made elsewhere using carbon-intensive energy. This constant hunger to find and extract new materials from the ground causes a range of environmental issues such as deforestation, habitat and species loss, as well as contributing to water scarcity and plastic pollution.  

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “We must radically change the way we think about and consume our goods and materials, and we must do that now.  We need to accelerate our progress towards a circular economy. Our ground-breaking Carbon Metric system for assessing the causes and consequences of our emissions has consistently shown that the vast majority are generated through the production, consumption and waste of materials and products.

“Around four fifths of our carbon footprint is caused by our huge consumption habit, and is fed primarily by goods which are manufactured abroad and imported. To tackle climate change we can’t ignore the emissions that are created overseas to feed our economy. Too many businesses assume that reducing the cost to the planet means increasing costs for them. But as we have and will continue to make clear, the opportunities are plentiful, with massive savings to be made. The current way of working cannot continue in the years ahead and successfully adopting a circular economy approach is the only long-term option.”

Gulland was speaking ahead of launching Zero Waste Scotland’s corporate plan in Edinburgh before an audience of Scottish business leaders, supported by Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham. The plan sets out how the pioneering environmental organisation will transform to focus on addressing global carbon emissions and growing the circular economy over the next four years. This will be achieved through increasing collaboration across all sectors and communities, nationally and internationally, to help reduce the environmental impacts from the products we use every day.

Cunningham said: “We should not underestimate our achievements to date in tackling climate change: we have already almost halved emissions since 1990. We cannot, however, be complacent. More action is needed to respond to the global climate emergency and show Scotland as the responsible, progressive, and ambitious country that it is.

“Zero Waste Scotland’s Corporate Plan sets out its way forward to support and drive the shared national endeavour required to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change completely within a generation. With its unique blend of subject expertise, its ability to facilitate innovation and build creative partnerships - and its record of strong public engagement - I am confident that Zero Waste Scotland will be a major player in Scotland’s journey to become a net-zero society by 2045.”

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