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Shedding some light on sustainable communities

It was when we were gearing up to launch the Resource Efficient Scotland programme, that I was once slightly caught off guard when someone asked at a meeting what our plans were for street lighting.  I suppose I hadn’t really thought that street lighting would be part of the Resource Efficient Scotland brief, but how wrong I was.

Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland | 17 Sep 13

Estimates put local authority electricity costs at around 17% for street lighting alone. This means it’s a significant issue and a big opportunity, so I am pleased that one of the first strategic priority actions of the Resource Efficient Scotland programme is to work with partners on a project to help councils assess the options to upgrade their lighting to low energy solutions such as LEDs.  

For me, the additional value of having Resource Efficient Scotland being delivered within the wider Zero Waste Scotland team is that we can also take the opportunity to look at other resource implications of the retrofit programme.  In addition to simply swapping bulbs, we’re able to consider how materials and components from the redundant bulbs and fixtures can be recycled or re-used.   Can we ensure that any new fixtures are made from sustainable materials which can be more easily replaced or repurposed when they get to the end of their life? Could the business model change so parts of the system are leased, not bought, and can be upgraded again if newer, even more efficient technology comes along? Could a local authority even consider an integrated procurement of light as a service rather than buying bulbs? Companies are now introducing such services onto the market.

There is a clear link here to our wider work on the circular economy where we could achieve multiple outcomes for our environment and our economy by thinking smarter and more holistically. The idea that providing a solution to one problem can open the door for a whole host of other opportunities is what really excites me.

It’s for that reason that I’m taking inspiration from a project in Malvern in Worcestershire where a new social enterprise (The Gaseteers) has been established to refurbish and look after the town’s iconic gas street lights. Their work has also resulted in upgrading the street lights to low energy power reducing the on-going costs of the lighting, as well as the creating this new social enterprise which employs several local people.

This story was brought to my attention in a book by Transition Town movement pioneer Rob Hopkins titled ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff’.  I have been impressed by this approach for many years since I came across Rob’s original Energy Descent Action Plan for Kinsale by chance on holiday in the south of Ireland in 2002.

We’re looking for similar collective innovation for our Zero Waste Town project.  We are looking for communities to come together to help demonstrate ‘the art of the possible’ in delivering Scotland’s zero waste vision and targets.  It’s about community-led initiatives to realise zero waste behaviours in everyday life and unlock the economic potential of resources.

After our recent call for partners we have just selected and awarded development funding to five communities in Scotland which over the coming months will prepare business cases to map out a journey towards Zero Waste for their locality. The project is very much influenced by the success of other similar initiatives in Europe. Italy has a very active Zero Waste Town programme and it is receiving global recognition. The Italian pioneer Rossano Ercolini from Capannori in Tuscany was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2013 in recognition of his efforts in stimulating community led action and a new approach to waste management which has seen Capannori achieve a recycling rate in excess of 80%.

But, as ever, our ambition is to look beyond just ‘waste’ and we are hopeful that our expanded brief to include energy and water will be a foundation for a closer examination of how our communities can organise themselves around multiple opportunities to maximise the sustainable economic and environmental benefits for local impact. Smart thinking for smart communities! 

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