Scotland has a proud history of pioneering innovations that have changed the world. From television to anaesthetics, our everyday lives would be unrecognisable without a whole host of Scottish inventions and discoveries.
Scots were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, building mills, factories and ships to manufacture and transport products and materials across the globe.
Fast forward to the 21st century and our modern-day mass consumption is now the leading cause of the climate emergency we face. Four-fifths of Scotland’s carbon footprint is caused by the things we produce, consume and all too often bin after using only once – with little thought for the consequences. In this respect, we are just not living within our means.
But our long-standing tradition as industrious pioneers also stands us in good stead to tackle the causes of the environmental crisis. Because what we need now is a new kind of business revolution. And all this waste offers all kinds of lucrative opportunities for established firms and emerging entrepreneurs alike.
Scotland needs to lead a radical shift to a circular economy. That means keeping goods and resources in a useful loop for as long as possible, through reuse, remanufacture, repair and finally recycling, to maximise the value of our limited resources.
Diverse new start-ups are growing in all kinds of sectors with the potential to drive forward global change once more.
And – as before – Scotland is already leading the way with varied and ground-breaking ways of living and working sustainably, so that we and our planet can thrive. One of the most promising and successful approaches is providing products as services to be leased, rather than goods to be used and thrown away.
This kind of circular concept needs a significant shift in mindset as well as in manufacturing.
One of the front-runners in this field is EGG Lighting, which has worked with circular economy experts at Zero Waste Scotland to develop its novel solution.
Electric light has become such a basic need in our businesses and homes that it’s easy to take it for granted.
There have been numerous advances in lighting from dimmer switches to LED. But the way fixtures and fittings are designed and manufactured still typically encourages firms and households to buy them as products to be owned, used and then discarded.
This tends to mean that they will be replaced rather than repaired. As a result, as soon as any individual component breaks the whole fixture is thrown out and another is bought despite all its other parts still working perfectly well.
EGG offers a far better, less wasteful approach. Instead of selling their product as fixtures and fittings, the Glasgow firm leases them as a service. That service covers maintenance, so if any part of a fixture is faulty EGG will fix it to keep it in use for as long as possible. This sustainable circular approach really was a lightbulb moment.
Peter McCafferty, Circular Economy manager at Zero Waste Scotland, says: “There are numerous ways of becoming circular, and many bring unique opportunities to cut costs and increase profits, while also introducing new ways to grow and diversify.
“Leasing is an approach which we have helped several firms, including EGG Lighting, to develop successfully though our business support service. The benefits include greater potential for repairs, upgrades and remanufacturing, which benefits both customers and businesses alike.
“More and more companies are now coming to talk to us about the potential for leasing in other areas too. There is clearly an interest in this and a rising demand to look at it seriously as a key way to help to expand Scotland’s circular economy to help combat the climate emergency.”
As well as reducing waste and the carbon emissions it generates, leasing products like lighting allows firms such as EGG to forge lasting business relationships with customers. In our ever-competitive commercial world, where interactions are increasingly done remotely online, spending time with clients face-to-face to understand their needs is invaluable for both buyer and supplier.
Retaining ownership of their assets helps circular suppliers to establish economies of scale to maximise the benefits of repairing, refurbishing and ultimately, recycling opportunities when products finally do come to the end of their working life.
Like lighting, technology is another key area where leasing rather than owning offers a circular solution. East Kilbride company Re-Tek started out reselling refurbished IT equipment more than 20 years ago. Now, thanks to funding from Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund to help Scotland’s SMEs switch to the circular economy, Re-Tek also runs Lease-Tek.
Leasing affordable, good-quality refurbished computers not only helps to extend the useful life of technology, but it also removes the upfront cost of updating IT systems with newer models for firms and organisations such as charities.
Lease-Tek also includes a dedicated helpline, providing clients with support for hardware issues and replacement computers when items can no longer be repaired.
Meanwhile, the fashion industry is adapting, allowing customers to hire clothes instead of owning them – which is arguably the strongest fashion statement anyone can make in the face of the climate crisis.
As Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, says: “What we wear can make a real difference. I hire my jeans from online Dutch firm MUD Jeans. Right now, this is a minority fashion choice, as fast fashion dominates the market.
“Most Scots know you can hire a kilt for a special occasion, but few have even heard of hiring everyday clothing like jeans. Choosing to hire ordinary clothing reduces the waste from all the everyday clothes we buy and wear rarely, once or never at all.
“Firms like MUD also give customers the added benefit of being able to swap items for another colour or style when we want a change.
“A survey earlier this year revealed that Brits were set to spend £2.7 billion on outfits this summer that they only planned to wear once.
“Hiring clothes instead of buying them means that you can return something after a single outing in a sustainable, guilt-free way, which also allows others to wear the item in the future.”
If Scotland is going to help combat the climate crisis and meet the Scottish Government’s target for net zero carbon emissions by 2045, we must become a more circular nation. The circular economy offers Scottish business and the planet a whole new lease of life.
Zero Waste Scotland provides expert support and funding to help firms benefit from circular business models. To find out more visit: circulareconomyaccelerator.scot
This article first appeared in the Vision supplement in the Scotsman – see it in full here.