Why all efforts to reduce emissions in Scotland will not go to waste

Learning how to tackle the major issue of discarded food in Climate Solutions’ informative awareness course is just one way business leaders can reduce their operational pollution, writes Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland

“Leaders in the public and private sector across Scotland know they must do something about the climate crisis. Making the right changes – instead of wasting time and money on the wrong ones – needs a clear understanding of the problem and possible solutions, taking account of costs and benefits, risks and opportunities.

Companies and councils are increasingly talking about net zero plans, cutting carbon and the circular economy – but not all are sure what that really means or how it should influence their operations.

While today’s leaders have a wealth of experience in running a business or an organisation, many have not yet become climate literate.

To help address that knowledge gap the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, the Institute of Directors, and the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh launched Climate Solutions courses in 2020 with Scottish Government funding.

They offer business leaders a crash course in the climate crisis covering science, policy and crucially solutions so firms can act. In 90 minutes, the Climate Solutions Accelerator aims to help busy managers learn about the practical solutions to implement that will help reach our national goal of ending Scotland’s contribution to the crisis by 2045. The longer Climate Solutions Professional course offers more detailed information and a chance to network with others at workshops, sharing ideas to mutual benefit.

To some time-poor executives, even an hour and a half might sound like a long time – and 2045 may seem like a distant date. But it’s hard to imagine any business leader who hasn’t spent far more than 90 minutes working out how to survive the COVID crisis. Yet the climate emergency remains the greatest threat to humanity in the long term.
What’s more a report in 2021 by KPMG based on a survey of top executives from 500 of the world’s leading companies stated that most senior executives believe their future job security will be impacted by their ability to manage climate risk over the next five years.

The Climate Solutions Courses provide the background and the understanding, as well as the confidence, for senior leaders to plan effectively and implement actions with colleagues across their business.

The starting point for every organisation’s net zero plan is calculating the greatest causes of their own operational emissions so they can see where to target their efforts for maximum effect. Because while we are all in this together, what we need to do will vary.

As chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, I’m fortunate as this is our area of expertise. Pre-pandemic, we already knew that the greatest cause by far of our own organisation’s emissions was commuting and corporate travel – so we focused our efforts on limiting carbon-intensive flights and driving, while supporting greener alternatives such as cycling and walking to work. Lockdown gave us an unexpected chance to discover that ending staff travel altogether would cut around 75 per cent of our emissions. We’ve developed our net zero plan further accordingly, urging staff to work from home permanently. Most have now chosen to do so.

Our experts can help other businesses assess their emissions and identify innovative ways to reduce them. While for us commuting was the key cause of emissions, for other sectors like hospitality, food waste is a major source of emissions. Wasted food is one of the worst causes of the climate crisis.

But it’s not all just about reducing energy, travel and waste. One of the hidden impacts of climate change is the embedded carbon in all the products and materials we consume – many of which we bin just after one use. Our over-consumption both at home and in business consistently accounts for around 80 per cent of our national carbon footprint.

We can all help to prevent that by making things last longer. That’s what the circular economy so many people are talking about does – keeping our dwindling resources in a ‘loop’ of use by reducing, reusing, repairing, remaking and, when all those options have been exhausted, recycling everything.

But cutting carbon isn’t just vital to end the climate crisis. It can also significantly cut costs and create more sustainable jobs and companies.
With firms are under so much unexpected additional pressure from COVID-19 that’s a real win-win-win.”

To find out more about how your business or organisation can support the global movement towards net zero emissions by taking the Climate Solutions Accelerator 90 minute online course, of the Climate Solutions Professional online course, in which participants can learn from the world’s leading experts on climate change, please email: climate.solutions@rsgs.org