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Scottish businesses must harness circular economy opportunities to tackle global emissions or be left behind

Businesses that don’t act now to meet growing public pressure to tackle the global climate emergency risk being left behind, as competitors pioneer business models that reduce carbon emissions and maximise use of limited materials, Zero Waste Scotland has warned.

12 Sep 19

The environmental expert said organisations must do more and examine how they produce, consume and dispose of everyday items just to stay in the race.  As increased material consumption puts eco-systems at risk, governments ramp up efforts to meet ambitious environmental targets and consumers demand goods that have minimal impact on the planet, it is imperative that businesses embrace the circular economy.

Zero Waste Scotland stressed that firms achieving a more sustainable way of working would deliver huge results in cutting Scotland’s carbon footprint. This is 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.

By achieving greater value from their materials and working more efficiently, businesses have the opportunity to pioneer new methods that will work in the long-term as the implications of the climate emergency increasingly bite.

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. 

Only by considering how to make products with less reliance on raw materials, and by remaking items at the end of their original life into goods that can be used time and again, will businesses be able to significantly reduce global emissions.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, 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.”

Everything has value and in a circular economy nothing should be wasted. In simple terms, it can be explained as 'make, use, remake' as opposed to 'make, use, dispose'. The ultimate goal is to maintain and improve our quality of life, while simultaneously reducing our material consumption and by extension, our impact on the planet.

Mr Gulland spoke out 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.

Environment Secretary Roseanna 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.”

Mr Gulland added: “Consumer behaviour will change and businesses can help shape it or be left behind. We are already seeing changes in consumer behaviours, with growing demands for reduced packaging and refillery-style supermarkets. But this practice needs to become mainstream, making sustainable choices convenient and accessible to all consumers.

“While the scale of the task is large, the benefits of establishing circular practices across all sectors to turn this around are just as substantial. Realising this has the potential to bring serious profit, missing that chance risks being left behind in a new, sustainable economy.

“Many Scottish firms nationwide are already leading the way, with our help, changing how they design and trade goods to keep materials in use for as long as possible to maximise their value. Successful circular economy enterprises range from refurbishing computers and upcycling furniture to producing sustainable animal feed using waste generated by our world-famous whisky industry.”

Zero Waste Scotland estimates that the circular economy would save Scottish businesses collectively at least £3b every year through benefits including the creation of longer-lasting relationships with customers, as firms switch from a model centred on simply selling products to providing products as services.



Notes For Editors


  • Zero Waste Scotland’s new Corporate Plan will be launched on September 12th in Edinburgh. Pdf or link available on request.
  • Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change. 

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy. 


We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund.


For media enquiries contact:

Jamie Macdonald, PR manager, Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07976 412034

Email: Jamie.Macdonald@zerowastescotland.org.uk


Julia Horton, Senior Press Officer, Zero Waste Scotland

Mobile: 07951 346119

Email: Julia.Horton@zerowastescotland.org.uk

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