Scotland's Economy

Scotland’s economy can benefit from a green renaissance

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.05.29Before the credit crunch people were falling over themselves to show how green they were.  Environmental consultancies were springing up all over the place and environmentalism was impacting on business and consumer behaviors. There was mad rush to renewables and words like up-cycling and skip-diving became middle class boasts.

Remember Al Gore’s documentary “The inconvenient truth” and the predictions that global warning would even threaten human existence and the fast approaching but undefinable tipping point. Remember when it didn’t matter who complained, those wind turbines were built?

A few years ago the green revolution seemed to stall, the wave dissipated becoming more of an undercurrent.  Maybe because global warming made people expect really hot days and droughts rather than just tepid rain when it should be snowing and some flooding.  Maybe it was the one or two expert global warming deniers, you know the same two or three guys who got the same amount of airtime as the other 97% of all climate experts who said they were wrong. Half of the public think there is no scientific consensus but 97% is absolute consensus. If the public think that the experts can’t decide, then they don’t act; they don’t recycle as much, they don’t care as much about carbon footprints but more importantly, they don’t punish political parties that cut grants for insulation or for renewable energy. They become open to the arguments of those that complain about wind turbines being ugly or overly subsidised, when nuclear is far more expensive; but the undercurrent still flows and public opinion may soon reach a critical mass and start to shape the political agenda again. Some governments have been working hard to stick to the original principles; Scotland’s target of 100% of energy needs generated by renewables by 2020 a case in point but does it go far enough?

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 10.09.46Scotland can gain an economic advantage by becoming the champion of the sustainable economy.  We have an extraordinary resource base for renewableswith 8.65% of the UK population, we generate 32% of its renewable energy. Few countries in the world can come close to our renewables potential. We have over 7,200 megawatts of renewable energy capacity in Scotland and, where as we may be approaching 45% of our onshore wind capacity, we are well below 1% of our 400% larger offshore wind, wave and tidal flow energy production capacity.

Scotland needs to be seen as the nation putting the environmental concerns back on the agenda on a global basis. This would have economic benefits that go way beyond renewable energy. Our tourism, food and drink (especially whisky), biotechrecycling and related manufacturing industries would benefit from adding some “serious green” to brand Scotland.

To make a significant difference to perceptions it should be a stated aim of the Scottish Government to be globally recognised as the nation that is the champion of environmental sustainability.  Sure, the UK Government putting all of its eggs in the nuclear basket and cutting renewables grants throws a bit of spanner in the works but there are terrible areas of waste to address and policy examples from around the world to learn from.  The plastic bag tax was a great start, with usage down 80% since late October, demonstrating that Scottish consumers are more open to changing environmental habits.  Even those who have paid the 5p have helped the environment with Marks & Spencer raising £214,374 for environmental causes such as the the Orkney Sustainable Fishery, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF.  

Sticking with retailers France has led the way on retail food waste. Realising that the average French person throws away 25kg of food a year, a third of which is still in its packaging, the French Government is on a drive to half food waste.  French Supermarkets are now obliged to donate food deemed too close to sell-by dates to charities or to be used for animal feed. Thats a law that should quickly be passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Supermarkets manage to throw away 200,000 tonnes of food a year. However retailers are only responsible for 5% of food waste, most food waste (42%) is down to consumers. Putting the French and the rest of the EU to shame UK consumers throw away 10% of our weekly food shop uneaten and Scots do that more often than the rest of the UK.  Having spent 8 years in the Food industry including FTSE 100 Food giant Northern Foods, take it from me the “consume by” date does not mean you will be poisoned, it is often deliberately shorted to make you throw away food and buy more.  At best food companies and retailers put a date on food when they think the texture wont give you the best eating experience.  For example, at Northern Foods we put a March “use by” date on Christmas puddings so you would have to buy new puddings each year. I regularly aged the high alcohol puddings a year past their sell-by date to make them taste better.  This again needs policy intervention on labelling, as you definitely shouldn’t eat an oyster two weeks out of date, but overly strict or commercial driven ‘use by’ dates are generating millions of tonnes of unnecessary waste every year. 

Would you buy misshapen fruit?

Would you buy misshapen fruit?

I would also like to see supermarkets forced to ensure that 20% of all the fruit and veg sold is misshapen. No really, supermarkets have identified that consumers wont buy ugly fruit and veg, so 40% of all UK-grown fruit and veg is thrown away because its not aesthetically pleasing – insert your variation of the ‘starving Africans’ comment your mother used to say.  French supermarket Intermarché is leading the way with an ugly fruit stand selling at a 30% discount. Jamie Oliver has also worked with ASDA to trial a new “Beautiful on the Inside” range of misshapen produce.  Sometimes you have to throw away though and plaudits to Glasgow City Council whose grey food bin recycling trial will be rolled out to all main door properties in the city from March 2016 then everyone else from May. OK, so not the first example of food recycling but keeping food waste out of landfills where it creates methane gas, one of the worst greenhouse gases, has to become more of a priority.

Saving the planet, saving money, addressing food poverty, positioning Scotland at the forefront of ethical sustainable development and food waste minimalisation, whats not to like?  It is time for the Scottish Parliament to act to put Scotland at the forefront of the postrecession green renaissance.

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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • The UK Government has failed to answer for its change on the commitments to renewable subsidies and one suspects this kind of unprecedented change in policy has other reasons at its root. Considering how the Independence referendum was impacted by the Better Together commitments to one nation, pooling and sharing promises is their action on such significant Scottish renewable strategies not sufficient a change to justify Scotland trying to go on its own again? This article highlights how much is at stake for our small country on a European and World scale and once again the English dominance in the union is potentially short changing Scotland. I feel that we have no other recourse to control such significant potential and we cannot trust the Tory Government who have a already shown a disregard for anything outside their own agendas.

  • Aberdeenshire also has food recycling service. All food waste goes to local company Keenan recycling for composting which is then used by local farmers. This not only reduces fertiliser use (hugely energy inefficient) but also transportation and landfill costs.

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