Developing an environment strategy for Scotland: analysis of responses to online discussion

Independent analysis of responses to our June to August 2018 online discussion that sought views to help inform the development of an Environment Strategy for Scotland.



2.1 This chapter presents analysis of responses to the draft vision put forward by the Scottish Government. It describes the discussion question, number of responses, level of support for the vision and suggested amendments to the draft wording. Participants’ comments on barriers that will impede the likelihood of achieving this vision, examples of its enactment and other things to consider in the strategy development are also addressed.  A sample of quotes that typify the views expressed by respondents in relation to the vision is included at the end of the chapter and in Appendix 2.

Online discussion question

2.2 The discussion document stressed the strategy would set out a shared vision of Scotland’s environment and climate change policies and their contribution to social wellbeing and inclusive, sustainable economic growth.  Question one asked participants for their views on the draft vision:

Our draft vision is for “one planet prosperity”. This means protecting nature and living within the Earth’s sustainable limits, while building a more prosperous, innovative and successful nation.

2.3 Every discussion participant responded to this question. While most respondents focused on the vision, some also made general comments on the strategy or on other discussion themes; a few mentioned issues not covered in the strategy that they felt to be relevant.

Responses to the draft vision statement

Support for the vision

2.4 A strong theme across responses was of support for the vision put forward. This ranged from full to partial endorsements of the vision statement and the accompanying explanatory sentence.  Expressions of full support are typified by the following examples ‘Scottish Canals supports this draft vision statement’, ‘very pleased to see that nature is at its core’ [Individual].

2.5 Just under a quarter of respondents made qualifying comments with their positive feedback. These typically focused on the challenge of achieving the vision, such as ‘we support the scope and ambition of the vision whilst simultaneously recognising that significant work will need to be undertaken to meet this’ [Royal Zoological Society of Scotland].

2.6 A small number of respondents said they did not support the draft vision statement.  Themes in their responses included a suggestion that the vision was not realistic or achievable, for example: ‘While this view is well-meaning and very open-ended it totally ignores the vast disconnect between current thinking and reality. There seems to be a tree-hugger mentality within the statement’ [Individual]. ‘NFU Scotland remains to be convinced about the merits of adopting this vision. If, according to the ecological footprint measure, Scotland needs approximately three planets to sustain its current living, reducing that to one planet sounds logical and laudable. But what does it actually mean in practice?’

2.7 Many participants highlighted the aspirational nature of the vision statement, expressing a variety of perspectives about the value of an ambitious approach. Positive comments frequently referenced the importance of inclusivity, for example ‘it seems to have a global understanding of the environment and its benefits for all’ [OPENspace Research Centre].

2.8 Some described the vision as vague. On this theme, a few respondents reflected that this was helpful, suggesting that ‘constructive ambiguity’ [Scottish Wildlife Trust] opened up possibilities for the vision to appeal to a broad range of audiences.  A small number suggested this diminished its power as a driver for change. For example, ‘it should be noted that the holistic nature of the approach could also present difficulties in translating it into action’ and ‘it is too broad to act as a vision that everyone is likely to connect with’ [Climate Ready Clyde]. One participant suggested ‘the term “one planet prosperity” is very clunky – it has no obvious meaning on its own’ [Nautilus Consultants].

2.9 The strategic value of the vision statement and its connection to other strategies was also commented on frequently. Many participants praised the global nature of the outlook conveyed through the statement and references to international efforts. Some mentioned the relevance of the vision to other work being undertaken in Scotland, for example:

‘It is laudable that one planet prosperity defines the vision for the Environment Strategy, reflecting the approach taken in SEPA’s regulatory strategy’ [Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) at the University of Edinburgh].

Suggested amendments to the draft vision statement

2.10 While the dominant theme was of overall support for the vision, in their detailed comments some respondents called for changes to specific aspects of the vision wording and/or focus.


2.11 The most common theme of discussion about the draft vision related to the term ‘prosper’. Respondents typically highlighted a concern that the word ‘prosper’ has financial or economic connotations which they suggested are at odds with the drive for change. ‘If by "prosperity" it means "material wealth" or "GDP" then this is fundamentally incompatible with the stated "one planet" aspiration.  However, if it means "well-being", or has defined environmental and social as well as economic components (as suggested under 'Tackling global environmental challenges') then this should be made clear and an explanation given of how it will be measured’ [The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland]. 'The vision is very important in establishing the need to live within our environmental means, but the link to ‘prosperity’ underplays both the immediacy and significance of the challenges we face’ [Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust].

2.12 A small number of participants endorsed the term ‘prosper’, describing a sense that it conveys a holistic message about growth and sustainability that goes beyond financial considerations.

The explanatory sentence that accompanies the vision statement

2.13 Linked to the points made above in relation to the vision statement, some participants questioned the use of the term ‘prosperous’ in the supporting sentence that explains the vision.  One person suggested that the draft strategy could be enhanced by the inclusion of a glossary to define terms such as prosperity that might be open to interpretation.

2.14 Much of the discussion about the explanatory sentence focused on participants’ responses to key messages, issues that could be given greater prominence to, or additional themes to include.

2.15 Some felt that the vision was too short and focused.  They advocated for some or all of the outcome themes to be explicitly incorporated within the vision statement or accompanying explanatory sentence.

2.16 A common theme in comments on the vision’s accompanying statement centred on the phrase ‘earth’s sustainable limits’. Several participants suggested that use of resources is currently beyond sustainable limits and urged that this be acknowledged, asking for an explicit definition of what one-planet living will mean.

2.17 One participant suggested that the term ‘while’ suggested a hierarchy of priorities in Scotland’s  vision, as follows: ‘use of the term “while” may risk the vision being misinterpreted as seeking a balance between environmental protection and development. It may be better to use a more unambiguous phrase that clearly explains the vision as prospering “within” environmental limits’ [IEMA].

2.18 Themes in specific comments on the text are set out below:

Protecting and enhancing

  • Several respondents asked for the explanatory sentence on the vision to reference ‘enhancing’ nature, rather than simply ‘protecting’ nature. One explained this as follows  ‘it is important we strive to improve on our current position where possible rather than remain static[Scottish Land and Estates]. Two participants suggested this change would bring the draft Environment Strategy in line with the ‘Environment’ National Outcome in the National Performance Framework.

Greater mention of people

  • A few respondents suggested the draft vision could be made more powerful by a greater focus on people, through changes such as highlighting the benefits of the environmental strategy for Scotland’s people as well as the environment and wildlife. For example, there were suggestions that health and wellbeing impacts should be given more prominence. Others advocated for incorporating a focus on equality and inclusivity within the vision and accompanying statement; some referred to the inclusion of equity in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Greater mention of landscape

  • Some participants advocated for the inclusion of references to landscape within the draft vision statement and accompanying explanatory sentence. For example, one respondent suggested any mention of ‘nature’ should be followed by the words ‘and landscape’ in order to bring together related aspects of legislation and policy.

Examples of suggested revisions

2.19 Reflecting the suggested changes to the vision statement and explanatory sentence described above, a few revisions were put forward by respondents. These included:

  • ‘We would suggest adding in the words "and enhancing" after "protecting".  So the Vision would be -" Our draft vision is for “one planet prosperity”.  This means protecting and enhancing nature and living within the Earth’s sustainable limits, while building a more prosperous, innovative and successful nation’. [John Muir Trust]
  • ‘To mirror the language of the new National Performance Framework (NPF) Purpose statement, and the introduction to the Discussion paper, the wording of the Vision could be revised to refer to 'protecting nature and living within the Earth’s sustainable limits, while building a more prosperous, flourishing, innovative and successful nation. The use of 'flourishing' would help with consistency of message and the balance across the economic, environmental and social ambitions of the Strategy.’ [James Hutton Institute]
  • 'We are generally in agreement with, and supportive of, the draft vision of ‘one planet prosperity but would suggest this should also make reference to health, for example, “…while building a more prosperous, healthy, innovative and successful nation”.’ [Greenspace Scotland]
  • 'We welcome and agree with this vision, however we do feel that the wording should say ‘protecting and enhancing nature.’ [Woodland Trust Scotland]
  • ‘We suggest that amending the vision statement along the following lines would provide the vision intended by the discussion paper while also remaining consistent with modern sustainable development thinking and avoid misinterpretation: “Our vision is for a ‘one planet’ Scotland. This means protecting and enhancing nature and living with the Earth’s sustainable limits, in order to underpin the well-being of a successful nation and its inhabitants”.’ [RSPB]

2.20 Alongside these suggested revisions, a small number of respondents asked the Scottish Government to give stakeholders another opportunity to comment on the strategy before it is finalised.

Barriers to achieving the vision

2.21 Participants described challenges they believe may hinder Scotland’s ability to achieve its vision. These included:

  • Suggestions that without specific resources, policy targets, timescales and mechanism for delivery, or a framework for accountability, the strategy will lack power.
  • A fear that the strategy does not sufficiently convey the sense of urgency required to achieve the changes sought.
  • Perceptions that a lack of clarity about where the strategy fits in terms of hierarchy of interlinked strategies may serve to dilute accountability.
  • Concerns that at an ambition to be ‘prosperous’ signifies an economic focus that is not compatible with a sustainable environmental approach.
  • A fear that Brexit may result in fewer opportunities to work on important environmental projects that have hitherto been funded by, or achieved through, Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
  • Observations that environmental issues are interconnected and that the actions of other countries will also have a bearing on whether or not the vision is achieved.
  • Suggestions achieving the vision will require urgent, drastic change above and beyond the steps mentioned in the strategy, for:
    • People, in the way that they consume goods and utilise resources.
    • The Scottish Government in relation to the resources it devotes to environmental issues and in its role as a legislator, to monitor and enforce change.

Examples related to the draft vision statement

2.22 Many respondents shared examples of ways their organisation contributes to the achievement of Scotland’s vision. They frequently described efforts to preserve resources and protect land, flora and fauna.

Our farming and land-use programmes bring farmers, crofters, land managers, agricultural and environmental experts and researchers together, to share and build knowledge, skills and innovation for low carbon, nature-friendly farming which is profitable and productive. Our Food Life programme works with Local Authorities across Scotland, working with schools to serve food that’s good for health, the environment and the local economy. Therefore, we fully support this vision and our work is already helping to realise it. [Soil Association Scotland]

Other comments on the strategy

2.23 In their comments on the vision statement some participants highlighted other issues for the Scottish Government to consider while finalising the vision and overall strategy. These included calls to:

  • Explain how the achievement of vision and outcomes will be resourced.
  • Assign responsibilities for delivering the vision and outcomes.
  • Draft a new Environment Bill for Scotland.
  • Reconsider the language and terminology used to convey a greater sense of urgency and a stronger commitment to achieving change.
  • Revisit the framing of the strategy, perceiving it to reflect the current environment portfolios of government. There were suggestions it should also encompass interlinked policy areas such as agriculture, transport, planning and energy.

2.24 Six respondents, in comments about the discussion paper, suggested that it should be expanded to address the issue of ‘noise’ and/or ‘light pollution’, either within the vision, outcomes or knowledge accounts. These participants suggested variously that noise is ‘a significant form of environmental pollution’ [Individual], that landscape design and place-making can reduce the impact of noise pollution [Architecture and Design Scotland], that noise pollution is an environmental health issue [Aberdeen City Council and Environmental Protection Scotland] and has a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing [Law Society Scotland] and wildlife [Bug Life].

A sample of illustrative quotes that typify the themes identified in this section:

The Vision is clear, concise and includes all the key sustainability issues and opportunities affecting Scotland. [Scottish Golf]

While we are supportive of the general direction of the vision, it does not contain any mention of the role or importance of people. We call for the vision to be framed more around behaviour change and the role that people can play. [Keep Scotland Beautiful]

It isn't clear how prosperity and success are defined in the draft vision. Both words could potentially be misinterpreted in a narrow economic sense whereas I think the intention is to achieve positive social (e.g. improving the nation's health & well-being in addition to tackling inequality) and environmental as well as economic outcomes. [Individual]

We welcome the commitment and connected approach set out by the discussion paper to develop a strategic Environmental strategy for Scotland. Scotland’s natural environment and resources are fundamental to realising many outcomes within Scotland’s National Programme, including realisation of successful low carbon economies, high quality places and improved well-being. [British Geological Survey]

The first element that defines the vision could be strengthened with emphasis on this interconnectedness and the value of biodiversity (rather than reference to “nature”) for itself and as provider of crucial ecosystem services (rather than reference to “Earth’s sustainable limits”, which is more ambiguous). The word “inclusive” should be a part of the second element of the defined vision. Words such as prosperous and successful could be replaced by more meaningful words that represent elements of a prosperous and successful nation such as inclusive, healthy, resilient, for instance. [Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, University of Edinburgh]

The vision is welcomed, if ambitious; recognising there is a long way to go from where we are now. It is high level and the devil will be in the detail. [NHS National Services Scotland]

More generally, the holistic and integrated approach taken by the Discussion Paper is welcome, although it appears to completely ignore one significant form of environmental pollution - noise. [Individual]



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