The Environment Strategy for Scotland: Reducing Scotland's International Environmental Impact - Learning from International Best Practices

This report supports the research project ‘Delivering the Environment Strategy Outcome on Scotland’s Global Footprint: Evidence Base and Policy Levers’. It summarises examples of international best practice in relation to policy levers for achieving a sustainable global footprint.

5. Method

5.1 Review approach

The approach taken has been to undertake a rapid literature review consisting of two parts:

Part 1: Global overview

The initial approach was to gain a broad overview of relevant policy approaches and levers through a review of selected grey and academic literature related to ecological and material footprints, consumption, and impacts such as deforestation, land use change and pollution. Initially, sources were identified based on the existing knowledge of the research team and Scottish Government colleagues, supplemented by targeted searches using terms related to the impacts of interest and policy levers identified in the initial sources reviewed. This approach was adopted due to the tight timescale for the review, especially given the wide-ranging scope of the work. Future research seeking to map the evidence base could focus on specific areas of interest highlighted in this report, using more systematic (and therefore resource-intensive) review methods.

Part 2: Examples of best practice

Drawing on the existing knowledge of the research team and examples highlighted in the literature reviewed in Part 1, examples or case studies were identified that illustrated the implementation of policy levers in international contexts. These examples vary in length and depth depending on the availability of evidence. While the specification for this research called for examples of ‘best practice’, it is noted that it was not possible to evaluate the effectiveness of the case study policies or interventions profiled (see ‘Defining best practice’ section below).

5.1.1 Conceptual frameworks

This review forms one part of wider work on the overseas environmental footprint of Scotland’s consumption (led by Global Footprint Network, GFN). Where possible, this review of the literature and international best practice examples aligns with two frameworks being used in the GFN research project:

i) Policy levers for reducing consumption categorised as: infrastructure-based, information-based, economic and regulatory, produced by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC; Harris, 2023; Figure 2).

ii) Consumption domains for the assessment of Scotland’s international footprint (GFN). That footprint is measured at the household consumption level through five elements: food; shelter/housing; mobility; goods; and services.

Figure 2. Framework of policy levers (Harris, 2023).


  • Sustainable waste disposal and circular economy
  • Supporting local consumption, where appropriate


  • Ecolabelling and certification
  • Awareness-raising campaigns
  • Education in schools
  • Capacity building


  • Taxes on the least sustainable options
  • Subsidies for the most sustainable options
  • Funding for research and implementation


  • Free trade agreements
  • Multi-lateral agreements
  • Banning or quotas
  • Sustainable public procurement rules
  • Controls in advertising

5.1.2 Scope of review

Given the scale of the challenge to achieve sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of consumption to a level within planetary boundaries (a ‘wicked problem[1]’), the scope of this review is confined to summary level assessments of policy levers in relation to the GFN consumption domains and policy lever types (Harris, 2023).

Achieving a sustainable international footprint requires the reduction of consumption in line with global environmental limits. This broad aim of achieving a sustainable level of consumption has relevance to several (if not all) of the Scottish Government’s Environment Strategy outcomes. In particular, there is significant common cause between the achievement of a sustainable international footprint (also referred as, Global Footprint outcome) and that of: ‘We use and re-use resources wisely and have ended the throw-away culture’ (also referred as, Resource-use outcome).

The development of pathways for other outcomes are the subject of separate work. Therefore, we acknowledge the contribution of reducing overall material footprints as part of reducing Scotland’s overseas environmental impact, but do not set out a comprehensive review of the extensive literature on policy interventions to reduce material consumption across all the 5 domains of consumption identified by GFN through their Consumption Land Use Matrix (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. GFN Consumption Land Use Matrix (Source: GFN, no date)
Consumption – Land-Use Matrix (or CLUM) for Scotland, developed by Global Footprint Network. It cross-references the identified domains of consumption with the impacted land-area type.

A sustainable global footprint involves reducing Scotland’s GHG emissions, water waste, ending loss of habitat, minimising land use impacts on soil fertility etc., and increasing fair wages, gender equality, labour rights, and the living conditions of those producing what is consumed. These effects should be ensured within Scotland’s borders, and for those involved in global supply chains. In this report we refer to reducing GHG emissions, given this is an important component of Scotland’s global environmental impact, whilst recognising that carbon emissions reductions and net zero policy are the domain of the Climate Change Plan (also reflected in the strategy’s outcome “We play our full role in tackling the global climate emergency and limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C”), rather than the Environment Strategy Outcome Pathway for becoming responsible global citizens.

Given these considerations, the focus here is primarily on policies to reduce environmental impacts overseas as a result of Scotland’s consumption and production. These are particularly in relation to land use and land use change (including deforestation, loss of habitats, women’s power in decision making around land), and pollution impacts. The water footprint associated with imported commodities also forms part of the environmental impacts of consumption. The timescale for reporting limited work on this topic.

The information is presented in the knowledge there are a wide range of concepts of sustainability that will be viewed differently depending on socio-cultural beliefs, political perspectives and the perspectives of economic models, all of which will vary between countries. The evidence and examples in the report are also with the awareness that there is a fundamental difference between reducing consumption and changing consumption to reduce the ecological footprint.

5.1.3 Defining ‘best practice’

What constitutes ‘best practice’ in policies varies depending upon the context. In respect of planning, Blake et al . (2021) offer the definition “Best practices are prevalent in all fields of planning and act to highlight effective and implementable examples, set standards, and generally assist ‘evidence-based’ policy-making. In doing so, they frame what futures are desirable and play a role in shaping the planned environment.” This definition promotes the need for clarity of purpose, standards to which to be adhered (and monitoring mechanisms to assess progress), and evidence to support the process and content of policy formulation.

Best practice can encompass the approach taken to developing and implementing new policies in respect of the timeline of anticipated benefit; the nature of engagement with the public and other stakeholders; and understanding and taking account of the governance and power relationships amongst stakeholders during processes of co-construction of solutions. This is important in reducing consumption when the scale of ambition is a contested issue.

In the findings of this review we have, where possible, provided case studies that highlight the implementation of policy levers in international contexts. These case studies aim to illustrate ‘effective and implementable examples’ as per the definition of ‘best practice’ above. However, for the most part, this does not include an assessment of the actual impacts of the policy instruments or interventions profiled. For this reason, we use the term ‘case study’ rather than ‘best practice example’.



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