Lessons in how to be sustainable from the ground up

After an introduction to ‘green living’ early in life, Jennifer Henderson, CEO and Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, is now spearheading change within her organisation, and explains how the Climate Solutions Professional course provided the inspiration.

“Star Wars or Smurfs? When I was at school, that was the big choice when it came to deciding which image adorned your lunchbox. Mum, as in so many aspects of my upbringing, saw things differently. So, I went to school with homemade sandwiches wrapped in Kellogg’s Corn Flakes packets (which I had to bring home to reuse the following day). I attended ballet class in a swimming costume because Mum thought the same outfit would be fine for a plie and for aquatic pursuits. I didn’t love the fact that most of my clothes were hand-me-downs, but I realise now that all of this gave me a golden lesson in living a green life.

I took my family’s passion for recycling into adulthood, but involvement in environmental issues for the most part involved activities away from work.

I’ve grown to realise that, as Chief Executive of a public sector organisation employing more than 1,100 colleagues supporting citizens and businesses across Scotland, I’m in the enviable position of being able to lead efforts that make a substantial difference.

I’m CEO and Keeper of the Registers of Scotland (RoS). Among the records we manage and maintain is Scotland’s land register. If you’ve ever bought or sold a property in this country, then you’ll have used our services. As custodians of the oldest public land register in the world, RoS has a deep affinity with Scotland’s soil dating back centuries. The question we face in all aspects of what we do is how does RoS adapt to fresh challenges and grasp opportunities that lie ahead. No challenge is more important than tackling climate change. We’ve already made great strides and acknowledge the need to go further.

I work alongside some brilliant colleagues who are making ground-breaking change possible; delivering high quality services that reduce our environmental impact. RoS are pioneers in the digital space, enabling hybrid working for colleagues, supporting customers to access our registers online, and hosting virtual events. The process of registering property ownership, which for centuries has been paper-based, will in the not-too-distant future be an entirely digital process.

There’s also a leadership challenge for me; to learn more and open my mind to potential solutions. With that in mind, I recently undertook the Climate Solutions Professional course, that aims to educate business leaders on climate change. It helped me identify there were many other things we must be doing and impressed upon me the urgency of making changes now.

It also made me realise that viewing carbon management activities as something that happened alongside the ‘day job’ was the wrong approach. Ensuring that sustainability was hard-wired into all business decisions was the fundamental shift in my thinking that resulted from attending the course.
Recognising the urgency of the climate crisis, and the need to focus on new approaches, in 2018 we employed a dedicated Sustainability and Climate Change manager, Emma Thomas, whose expertise and commitment is helping us make the changes required.

We’ve removed all plastic cutlery and packaging from our canteen and sold over 400 keep cups in preparation for the move to reusable cups, donating proceeds to the Marine Conservation Society Scotland in recognition of their efforts to tackle plastic pollution on our shores.

There have been a host of initiatives to ‘green’ our estate, such as fitting LED lighting, switching from gas to electric air conditioning units, investing in electric charging points and low emissions pool cars.
We’re working closely with communities on litter picks, tree planting with Forestry and Land Scotland, and RoS is fortunate to have an active staff network promoting green issues.

At the centre of all this is our pledge to net-zero direct greenhouse emissions by 2040 and indirect emissions by 2045. A sustainability focus is embedded throughout our corporate plan, underpinned by our Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy 2021-26. This supports the Scottish Government’s pledge to deliver green jobs and sustainable growth.

Our offices may be based in city centres but that hasn’t stopped us enhancing biodiversity. Both sites have external wildflower planters to attract pollinating insects, and we aim to introduce beehives on the roof of our Edinburgh building.

We keep challenging ourselves and supporting colleagues and customers to join us on this vital journey. It seems appropriate that an organisation with Scotland’s land at the heart of its activities should do all it can to protect that land for future generations.”

To sign up or to find out more about the Climate Solutions Professional or Climate Solutions Accelerator, please email: climate.solutions@rsgs.org