Vision Voices: How can we improve sustainability?

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We asked people from a variety of industries and organisations to suggest ways to keep products and materials circulating for as long as possible and so make the best use of them. Perhaps some of them will inspire us to do our own bit for the planet?

Iain Stirling, owner of Arbikie

As both farmers and distillers, sustainability plays an important role at Arbikie whether it’s feeding spelt grains to our cattle, growing our ingredients for distilling, or reusing whisky casks to mature gin.

Responsible use of our resources is a bedrock of farming as it is often a low margin business and so we have continued this approach when setting up our farm distillery.  

We also grow our own juniper plants and other botanicals. This enables us to minimise our carbon footprint but also allows wild stocks of the botanicals to flourish in the area without being harvested by the distillery.  

Arbikie Distillery started when we found a use for our “wonky potatoes” (potatoes which were too big or too small for our supermarket clients) and we turned them into Scotland’s first potato vodka.  

Before we had to get rid of these perfectly good crops.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Arbikie, we are custodians of the land and protecting our natural environment is of paramount importance.

David Jackson, show manager of the Royal Highland Show

The Royal Highland Show, as one of Scotland’s largest event, is committed to running a sustainable event.

We have developed robust public transport plans that link trains and buses as well as partnering with Edinburgh Trams to make it easier for the 190,000 people who flock each year to the show to travel sustainably.

The show recycles the many tonnes of bedding used to keep the cattle comfortable during its four days and we have invested in energy and water efficient infrastructure to cut costs and reduce energy consumption.

Local food plays a huge part in the show and our Food Charter means that all produce is Scottish wherever possible.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at the show and we will continue to do our bit for the planet which is what you would expect from an organisation whose role is to promote and protect the best in food, farming and rural life.

Howell Davies, sector engagement project manager of Interface

At Interface we are constantly facilitating business to academic collaborations and often come across innovative enterprises which are not only looking to develop products and services but also improve sustainability, often by taking someone else’s waste and converting it into something of value that can be used elsewhere.

Here are three fantastic companies currently developing very cool ways to prolong the lifecycle of resources.

CuanTec is a Scottish-based biotech company making compostable, antimicrobial bioplastic for packaging from waste of the fisheries industry, such as langoustine shells.

Aurora Sustainability is involved in growing mushrooms and derivative products from wasted bioresources like spent brewery grains/coffee grounds and recovering excess heat from whisky distilleries, breweries and dairy farms.

MiAlgae produces microalgal products high in omegas and proteins as nutrient supplements for livestock feeds through the remediation of co-products from the whisky industry.

Three brilliant companies who have the potential to make a real difference to the sustainability of our planet.

Duncan Thorp, policy and communications manager of Social Enterprise Scotland

I’ve always been pro-active when it comes to sustainability issues. I strive not to consume too much, follow a planet-friendly vegan diet, re-use and recycle, get green energy from the Our Power co-operative, have an ethical pension and organise the Ethical Living Scotland Meetup.

In my day job at Social Enterprise Scotland we strive to use sustainable, social enterprise suppliers whenever possible.

From our office at the Ethical Property Company, use of green, sustainable Fairphones, banking with Triodos Bank, a low carbon footprint for staff travel and an office full of plants, we strive to do whatever we can.

Being planet-friendly goes hand in hand with building a strong economy and fair workplaces.

Striving for sustainability, paying the real Living Wage, flexible working and supporting social enterprises complement each other perfectly.

There are many quick and easy things that businesses and consumers can do to improve their positive impact.

Judith O’Leary, managing director of Represent

Represent is the first marketing agency to be awarded a Green Tourism award for sustainable practices.

In our drive to become a business that cares about our impact on the environment, we set up a green team that champions environmentally friendly practices in the office from the basics such as recycling and switching off lights and computers to more fundamental changes to the business such as only buying furniture made from sustainable sources, using public transport and buying local wherever possible. Caring about 
our environment has such a positive impact on staff morale and recruitment 
– people want to work at Represent because we look after our people and our planet.

It is an important value for the business that everyone can live and build upon and we embed it into our social strategy to help educate and inform others.

We all have a role to play in this green movement and Represent is proud to be doing our bit.

Sarah Allison, farming and land use manager of the Soil Association Scotland and young farmer from Easton Farm, Dunsyre

My grandfather first came to Easton Farm, nestled on the western edge of the Pentland Hills in the 1950s, working with the soil to carve a living out of livestock farming.

We have always been a business committed to nurturing and caring for our soil – in 2001 we cemented that commitment by converting to organic farming.

In 2017, we took things one step further, embarking on a peatland restoration project.

Peatland restoration involves blocking ditches to raise the water table, encouraging the growth of sphagnum mosses that, over time, break down.

This process brings multiple benefits, including acting as a filter for rainwater, reducing the brown muddy water that comes out our taps after a storm; storing carbon that is contributing to climate change; and providing a favourable habitat for a whole range of wildlife and birdlife.

This project ensures that just like we have for the last 50 years, we will continue to look after the soil on our farm for the next 50 years, and ensuring that everyone will benefit from doing so.

Steph Smith, animal genetics researcher of SRUC

Fleetwood Mac sang “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”. This is essentially the raison d’etre of sustainable development – it strives to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Adopting Tesco’s “every little helps” approach, there are many innovative things we can do – in the short term – to try to contribute to this.

Pasta straws instead of plastic, “wonky” veg instead of perfectly straight carrots, apps to control and manage energy use. There are longer-term approaches too.

At Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), we combine years of animal breeding expertise, data from our research dairy farm and genomic technology to understand how to breed healthier animals, which produce more product (be it eggs, milk, meat) per unit of feed and with less waste (methane emissions, loss through disease).

So yes, “yesterday’s gone” but today we can put effort into research with longer-term benefits.

Alban Denton, managing director of Loch Duart

The best use of resources is critical to sustainability. At Loch Duart salmon farm this approach is most clearly shown in our approach to providing the highest quality feed for our salmon.

Loch Duart has an exclusive relationship with Isfelag, Iceland’s oldest fishing company.

Isfelag catches capelin for its roe for sale to Russian and Japanese consumers. This fishery is MSC-certified. Loch Duart uses the rest of the capelin as a very high grade fishmeal.

Thereby Loch Duart is using a by-product from human consumption to produce feed which is very similar to the diet of wild salmon, is ideally suited to their metabolism and has many nutritious benefits for the salmon.

This is good for the salmon, the environment and, of course, the consumer.

Bethan Thompson, PHd student at SRUC

In Scotland, households throw away 630,000 tonnes of food every year.

One way we can reduce the amount we waste is by eating food past its best but safe to eat. While we try to avoid this situation, sometimes it’s just not possible.

Our research shows that we are often not willing to eat products after the best-before date.

Many of us understand that it is actually safe to do so, in reality we prefer to choose fresher food, may not trust our judgment, or believe that people will judge us.

These social and cultural changes will take time, but we can start building food skills and confidence to make decisions on the food they eat.

Food companies need to work to build our trust in date labels so we know that food beyond its best-before date is not just safe but it’s actually a good thing to eat.

This article appeared in the SUMMER 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. A digital version can be found here.