Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

12 Responsible Consumption and Production

  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Fair Work
  • Poverty
  • Health

There are fundamental changes needed to the way that all of society produces and consumes good and services. Multilateral action between government, business, and non-state organisations is required to make the changes needed to encourage and grow sustainable production and consumption. Scotland is recognised for its leadership in encouraging and promoting a more circular economy. There are great examples of innovation and good practice which support some positive trends across the targets in this goal. With the 2030 deadline our collective efforts need to intensify.

Circular economies and waste reduction (target 12.1, 12.2, 12.3 and 12.4)

Scotland’s circular economy strategy, Making Things Last, was published in 2016 (target 12.1). Zero Waste Scotland, together with partners, are working with enterprises, the public sector and local authorities to promote and showcase more circular practices. For example, they provide a material brokerage service, a one-stop-shop for growing Scotland’s reprocessing sector, helping local authorities and the public sector get a better deal for the recycled materials collected in their communities. Sponsored by the Scottish Government, it is a partnership between Scottish local authorities, Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Procurement. It aims to match up the supply and demand for high value recycling, which will provide certainty of supply for those who wish to invest in Scottish reprocessing plants, and certainty of demand for local authorities.

There is also a Circular Economy Investment Fund in place which offers £18 million as grant funding to small and medium sized enterprises who are helping to create a more circular economy. There are now many area based initiatives such as Circular Edinburgh, Circular Glasgow, Circular Tayside, which are based on partnership approaches between Chambers of Commerce, local authorities and others.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)’s statutory purpose is to protect and improve the environment in ways that, as far as possible, also help create health and wellbeing benefits and sustainable economic growth. In fulfilling its statutory purpose, SEPA are directly contributing to the Scottish Government’s Purpose and National Outcomes as well as contributing to the SDGs. Growing the nation in ways that makes our natural capital available for future generations is the core of SEPA’s regulatory strategy One Planet Prosperity, through which it is developing ambitious and innovative approaches that help the businesses it regulates to reduce water, energy and materials use in ways that improve their profitability and long term viability. SEPA’s aim, through the implementation of its regulatory strategy, is to migrate away from separate media based regimes into an integrated framework of authorisations, placing sectors at the heart of everything it does.

Sector plans, providing a clear, coordinated approach to regulation and engagement, represent the foundation for developing new partnerships, engaging operators and stakeholders and informing how SEPA staff work to produce guidance and evidence for decision making.

Integrating the cross-cutting SDGs into its support for sectors, SEPA are also delivering the SDGs through sustainable growth agreements (SGAs) (target 12.6). SGAs are shared agreements that enable regulated businesses and other organisations to set their own ‘beyond compliance’ actions and targets that also improve profitability, for example by driving reductions in water, energy and material use and waste. The 21st century challenges SEPA is seeking to tackle are so large and inter-connected that most solutions will come through partnership working (Goal 17). By using these approaches SEPA is hoping to encourage others to meet outcomes that are aligned to the SDGs.

The Data Picture: Carbon Footprint

Target 13.2 is to integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.

Between 1998 and 2016, Scotland’s carbon footprint (emissions from all greenhouse gases) fell by 12.3 per cent, from 84.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) to a record low of 73.8 MtCO2e in 2016.

Line chart showing the million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted showed a decrease from 78.9 million tones in 2012 to 76.7 million tonnes in 2014. There was a rise in 2015 to 79.3 million tonnes, before falling to 73.8 million tonnes in 2016.

Million tonnes of CO2 equivalent

Source: Scotland’s Carbon Footrprint, 2016

Waste (targets 12.5 and 12.8)

Closer Look - The Edinburgh Remakery

The community-led re-use, repair and recycling sector is attracting interest in Scotland. There are many, mostly small, enterprises, often social enterprises or charities engaged in a variety of activities. They often have social objectives as well as environmental. The Edinburgh Remakery, for example, is an environmental social enterprise committed to diverting waste from landfill and supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups by promoting and teaching repair and reuse skills.

The Data Picture: Waste Generated

By 2030, the globe needs to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (target 12.5). The amount of household waste generated in Scotland fell by 2% (56 thousand tonnes) between 2017 and 2018. There has been a reduction of 8% since 2011, which was the first year comparable data was collected.

Line chart shows household waste generated in million tonnes in Scotland increased from 2.46 in 2014 to 2.5 in 2014, before falling to 2.41 in 2018.

Household waste generated in million tonnes

Source: Scottish Environmental Protection Agency

The Data Picture: Recycling

By 2030, the globe needs to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (target 12.5).

In 2018 the Scottish household waste recycling rate was 45%. The amount of household waste recycled in 2018 was 1.07 million tonnes.

Line chart showing that Scottish household waste recycling rates have fluctuated slightly between 43% in 2014 and 45% in 2018.

Scottish household waste recycling rates

Source: Scottish Environmental Protection Agency

Scotland has a set of ambitious targets for waste reduction: 33% reduction in waste by 2025, waste prevention (15% reduction in waste from 2011) and recycling (70%) for 2025, as well as targets and regulations to reduce landfilled waste (banning biodegradable municipal waste to landfill from 2021, and setting a target of just 5% of all waste going to landfill by 2025). These targets are co-owned by Zero Waste Scotland, SEPA, and the Scottish Government and work is currently underway to develop a meaningful baseline, and measurement strategy to ensure Scotland is delivering on these targets and is on track to meet the SDG 2030 deadline.

Zero Waste Scotland also has a dedicated food and drink waste prevention team, which runs a business support service, consumer engagement campaign (Love Food Hate Waste) (LFHW), and engages with key sectors at a strategic level. LFHW campaigns are largely focused on awareness raising and driving behaviour change. Over the six month period October 2017–March 2018, LFHW campaigns reached approximately 300 million views via multiple media platforms. Scotland’s Food & Drink Advice and Support Service (2016-2018) suggests there was a total lifetime attributed cost saving of £4.9 million and lifetime attributed carbon saving of 12,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent.

Work to date has helped local authorities transform waste and recycling collection infrastructure in Scotland, with related shifts in crucial behaviours such as food waste collection and reprocessing. The proportion of households making use of local authority-provided food caddies was 55% in 2017, similar to the 56% in 2016. This represents a substantial increase from the 26% of households using food waste recycling caddies in 2012 (Scottish Household Survey 2017). In reprocessing, initiatives have been started to turn Bread to beer and to use anaerobic digestion for electricity.

The Scottish Government is developing a Food Waste Reduction Action Plan in collaboration with Zero Waste Scotland to set out a range of actions that will help to achieve the 33% food reduction target (target 12.3). Scotland is developing a deposit return scheme for drinks packaging. This approach to dealing with empty drinks containers aims to bring an increase in recycling, improve the quality of material collected for recycling, help combat littering, and prevent plastic and other materials polluting our rivers, oceans and countryside. This scheme will specifically contribute to target 12.5.

The issues of littering, single use plastic and overall concern with waste reduction has gained momentum in Scotland, especially accelerated by the catalytic role of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet episode. It inspired a huge range of community led activities supported by charities, like Keep Scotland Beautiful, such as beach cleans and community clean ups.

Roadside Litter Campaign

In 2016, Keep Scotland Beautiful launched a national campaign to tackle roadside litter, with the aims of raising awareness, improving infrastructure and starting to change the behaviour of those responsible. The campaign, with its slogan Give your litter a lift, take it home, has worked with a wide range of partners including Transport Scotland, Zero Waste Scotland, Visit Scotland, road operators and local authorities. The second phase of the campaign, which started in August 2018, focusses on developing new interventions, focusing on behaviour change and working to make necessary improvements to litter legislation and remove barriers to effective enforcement.

Glasgow Cup Movement

Keep Scotland Beautiful and Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group (PCRRG) have launched Scotland’s first single use cup recycling initiative Cup Movement in Glasgow, where 95 million disposable cups are used annually. The initiative aims to tackle the city’s single use cup waste problem by improving recycling infrastructure and encouraging Glaswegians to change their behaviours. The partners are working with retailers, local authorities and other key organisations to install cup collection points across the greater Glasgow area and display educational posters aimed at encouraging consumers to switch to reusable cups, or to recycle their disposable ones. The PCRRG is calling for waste management firms to improve their recycling infrastructure for paper coffee cups. Such cups are commonly sealed with a plastic lining to make them waterproof. Although both materials are recyclable, the lining cannot be handled by most recycling facilities, while the paper is subjected to contamination issues. Progress will be tracked throughout 2019 with the aim to gather evidence on this type of model, for potential wider adoption in the future.

Sustainable public and business consumption (target 12.7)

Sustainable public procurement

Scottish Government views procurement as a strategic enabler to delivering social, economic and environmental outcomes. Scotland has a range of sustainable procurement measures in place. The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 includes a Sustainable Procurement Duty that requires public bodies to consider how procurements could be used to improve social, economic and environmental wellbeing and enable small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), supported businesses and the third sector to access contract opportunities. Statutory guidance and sustainable procurement tools that underpin delivery of the duty, have been developed to help buyers consider a range of social, economic and environmental factors including: climate change; employment, skills and training; equality; and fairly and ethically traded etc. For example, In addition to climate change and energy efficiency regulatory requirements, and to maximise the contribution that public procurement can make to carbon reduction and climate change, the Scottish Government focusses on resource and energy efficiency, including the circular economy. The tools and supporting guidance were developed from a United Nations Environment Programme product that aligned to the SDGs and were tailored to align to the NPF.

The Scottish Government will publish the first Scottish Ministers’ Report on procurement activity in Scotland based on information contained within individual annual procurement reports from across the public sector. Research to assess the impact and value of the sustainable procurement duty on inclusive economic growth (focusing on the contribution to National Outcomes) will commence later this year.

Scottish Government has worked with partners across the wider public sector, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Zero Waste Scotland, to develop our approach to delivering sustainable outcomes through public procurement. An extensive programme of training and mentoring support has been widely provided, with over 700 people across the public sector receiving.

Zero Waste Scotland has worked closely with Scottish Government on improving sustainable procurement practices. Initially they focused on supporting compliance with the Marrakech Approach to Sustainable Public Procurement, and then shifted to a focus on encouraging circular procurement. They have worked with key partners such as NHS Scotland, Scotland Excel, and Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges, and contributed to the development of more sustainable central frameworks for the Scottish public sector, as well as providing more targeted training and project-specific support.

Closer Look - Scottish Building Federation

The Scottish Building Federation sees procurement as the essential driver of achieving economic, societal and environmental goals. In the Construction Leadership Framework the organisation examines best practice for procurement based on the Scottish Procurement Model which links deliverables with outcomes. Aligning policy with strategy and linking it to the whole procurement system enables a more focused delivery of the National Outcomes and SDGs. The Framework is a detailed 320 page reference manual which shows how this can be achieved in detail.

Closer Look - Business reporting on SDGs (target 12.6)

SSE is a major energy provider headquartered in Scotland and a recognised leader in sustainability reporting. Its 2018 sustainability report provides a comprehensive review of sustainability strategy and performance, and identifies a total of eight SDGs and fifteen SDG targets that are most material to its business and its stakeholders. The report’s overview page connects existing corporate targets to the SDGs at goal level, and applies a simple ‘red-amber-green’ snapshot of progress. For stakeholders who want more detail, the importance of all eight material SDGs and their relevant SDG targets is explained, and a description of the company’s contribution to each one given. This clear reporting makes SSE an exemplar of SDG 12.6 in Scotland.

Preserving and promoting our historic and cultural environments

Sustainable tourism

VisitScotland, Scotland’s National Tourist Organisation, is a key actor in promoting sustainable tourism across Scotland. It produces an annual sustainability report which highlights the key actions VisitScotland is taking to influence and drive sustainability within the tourism sector. The latest report was published May 2018. Some key highlight activities undertaken in 2017/2018 include:

  • Increase sustainability minimum requirements as part of the VisitScotland Quality Assurance accreditation
  • Continue to work on internal sustainability activity.
  • Recruitment of restaurants and cafés to Taste or Best accreditation, providing advice and support to increase the sourcing and promotion of Scottish food and drink
  • Business guides with advice and support on topics from energy, water, waste, community engagement and adapting to climate change
  • Ongoing promotion of Green Tourism programme.
  • Working with Glasgow City Council to support the sustainability of the destination
  • Promotion of low carbon travel options

The organisation provides sustainability advice and carries out basic assessments. Since January 2015, sustainability minimum requirements have been incorporated into the Quality Assurance scheme for businesses, with increasing minimum requirements year on year since then. Information from 2853 Quality Assured businesses on activity undertaken in 2016, shows that around 97% of these meet the sustainability requirements set of 2016.

Perth based Green Business is the not-for-profit company that operates the Green Tourism programme which has three key roles: 1) to analyse the performance of businesses against over 150 sustainability indicators, issuing sustainability assessments every two years; 2) to offer support and advice about how businesses can better their performance; and 3) to provide a badge of honour for those businesses making practical steps to reduce their impacts and improve their efficiency. Depending on the level of achievement tourism operators can be awarded a Bronze, Silver or Gold award and use this in their marketing to customers.

In addition to aligning to the SDGs, the programme also aligns with Scotland’s Economic Strategy Green Tourism and supports the objective of boosting competitiveness and Scotland’s economic performance while addressing inclusive growth, low carbon and reduced waste and aiming for a fully circular economy. It also aligns with Scotland’s Tourism 2020 (TS2020) strategy, launched in June 2012, with an ambition to grow visitor spend. Sustainability is an underpinning principle of this national strategy, so that growth is achieved in a way that is viable for the long term, to enhance Scotland’s communities and improve our natural environment. Amongst the strategy’s sustainable objectives are: help the sector adapt to climate change, reduce resource use and waste and reduce transport and tourism’s impact. This underpins Green Tourism’s role in working with members, helping them realize these objectives and contribute to a sustainable Scotland.

The Scottish Government is in the process of refreshing the strategy - Scotland’s tourism strategy beyond 2020 – which will seek to drive sustainable and inclusive economic growth across all of Scotland, including our most fragile rural communities, and will be underpinned by fair work principles. It will create a world-class tourism destination that attracts visitors from across the world to enjoy high-quality and unique experiences and enhances Scotland’s global reputation.

For the future, the Green Tourism programme aims to focus on intensifying and building benefits for, e.g. the circular economy, reduced waste products, better sustainable fish choices, better reporting on CO2 to consumers and in the supply chain etc. They plan to take action and be more proactive in advising businesses what actions to take, to maximise benefits for the planet and business. At the heart of Green Tourism will be the use and application of digital technologies and services, to make assessments more productive, provide advice and make reporting easier and more efficient.

Closer Look - Cultural and Environmental Tourism

Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body set up to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment, looking after a wide range of sites and historic visitor attractions across Scotland, amongst which are Edinburgh, Urquhart, St Andrews, Doune and Stirling castles, Linlithgow Palace and Dryburgh Abbey. Properties vary in scale and from being open all year round to seasonal.

HES has been working with Green Tourism since 2001 when Stirling and Craigmillar castles first joined. HES’s corporate commitment now sees 67 of its properties with Gold (40) and Silver (27) awards. This commitment sees common quality and sustainably standards sought and applied throughout the portfolio of visitor attractions, including e.g. conversion to LED lighting, access statements and information about public transport for all sites, local and Scottish procurement where catering is provided and for retail facilities, information on site about walks in the area, identification guides about flora and fauna, recycling processes etc.

Central to HES’s approach and success has been the corporate adoption of the principle of Green Tourism and the induction and gaining support of staff at the venues, to translate corporate policies into practical outcomes for each venue.

Closer Look - Cultural and Environmental Tourism

Glenuig Inn

Glenuig Inn, on the Sound of Arisaig, clearly demonstrates that leisure and tourism businesses can run efficiently and profitably with a minimal environmental footprint whilst opening all year round. From the start in 2007, the vision was that environmental sustainability should be at the fore and 10 years on, that’s still the case. No decision is made without full consideration of environmental impacts and fully engaging the team in the process. A traditional highland inn with modern, spacious accommodation, serving locally sourced Scottish food to visitors from around the world, Glenuig Inn attracts those who appreciate its unique location and ethos. A long term Green Tourism Gold award holder, achievements include:

  • 100% renewable energy
  • Zero food waste leaving site - dried, sterilised and added to biomass as fuel
  • One domestic bin per fortnight to landfill
  • No single use plastics or black bin liners
  • Lower energy bills in winter than summer
  • Sustainable supply chain management - packaging take-back scheme
  • LED lighting throughout

The combined infrastructure measures, and integrated operating procedures not only significantly reduce carbon emissions, but also have reduced total energy consumption to almost half whilst growing the business substantially.

Scottish Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) reporting working group

The Working Group is hosted in partnership by SEPA and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). It is informal and time bound bringing together a pool of leading thinkers to focus on two key challenges:

  • How can businesses seize the opportunities of the SDGs by building them into their business models and also benefit the Scottish economy, environment and most importantly, our people?
  • How can the Scottish approach to One Planet Prosperity and SDGs create transformational impact across the UK and globally?

The group will work together to develop practical tools and approaches that help businesses from SME’s through to large corporate bodies build the SDGs into their reporting frameworks. The practical SDG tools developed by the group will help businesses identify new opportunities and set ambitious targets that make them more sustainable, resilient and marketable with benefits for the economy, environment and people. The project will deliver against all the SDGs. It will focus on looking at SDGs using the areas of people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnership. It will also host a meeting to look at the connections between SDGs.

Partnerships also span beyond Scotland and the UK in order to make the best of the available opportunities to learn from others. Zero Waste Scotland, for example, and involved in UK networks (e.g. Courtauld) and are members of the EU’s expert Platform On Food Losses and Food Waste. A key focus of this work is understanding how the SDGs and EU goals and measurement in this area relate to Scotland, as well as transferring knowledge of what works between countries.

Challenges and next steps

The development of metrics to enable us to assess the quantities of materials being consumed and the impact that is having on our planet is very important. One of the key challenges for Goal 12 is to fill in the data gaps to help Scotland evidence its progress. For example, material footprint – a measure of how much material is consumed per person – is measured at UK level but there is no breakdown available for Scotland. Also, material flow and consumption data is based on weight and, although this can be complemented with information on carbon, it still falls short of giving us the full picture in terms of environmental impact. The work currently underway through, for example, establishing a baseline and measuring framework for waste reduction will be helpful in this. The work of the ICAS group to encourage the private sector to embrace and report against the SDGs will also help paint a better Scottish picture.

In addition to the data and monitoring challenge, there is also the challenge in the length and international nature of supply chains. This makes it complicated to regulate production and to introduce standards with regard to materials used, design of products and good practice.

Achieving further shifts in consumer behaviour will require work and collaboration across Scotland. The Scottish Government has committed to developing an Environment Strategy for Scotland. In 2018, an online discussion was held to seek feedback on six draft outcomes to help achieve the Strategy’s overall vision, including: ‘The global footprint of our consumption and production is sustainable’. There was strong support for this outcome in feedback from the discussion. Further work will be undertaken during the development of the strategy to identify priorities for action to deliver the outcomes.

Commitments in the Scottish Government’s 2019-20 Programme for Government that relate to this Goal

  • The Scottish Government will consult on draft proposals to be included in a new Circular Economy Bill, and bring forward legislation in the coming year – this will embed an innovative approach to reducing, reusing and recycling materials that we know cause environmental harm
  • Action to meet or exceed the standards set out in the European Union’s Single Use Plastic Directive, including consulting on raising the minimum charge for the single-use carrier bag from 5p to 10p and banning the most problematic single use plastic items by 2021
  • A consultation on legislation to require public bodies to set out how they will meet climate change and circular economy obligations, mobilising the £11 billion of annual public procurement to support the climate emergency response



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