The rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands is an iconic image recognised throughout the world. However, the history is a far cry from the idyllic settings adorning whisky bottles from Japan to Jamaica. After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, landowners found that they could earn more money from this often inhospitable environment by grazing sheep on the land than the meagre income raised from poor crofters. Thus, the notorious Highland Clearances were enforced, often violently. In the following decades, the Industrial Revolution stimulated resettling in urban areas, further reducing the population. The Highlands have since become one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe, with around six people per square mile.
But the Highlands are now poised to take centre stage in Scotland’s development. As the world’s population steadily increases, so too does demand for resources, which has led governments, businesses, and organizations to focus on a more sustainable approach to catering to the needs of the population. And the Scottish Highlands are leading the way in creating a sustainable future for Scotland.
The Highlands Council introduced the programme ‘A Sustainable Highland – Change Strategy for 2019-2022’ in December 2018. This set out the commitments that the Council aimed to deliver over the following 3 years.
The strategy focuses on 4 key themes: Efficiency; Commercialism and Income Generation; Redesign and Improvement; and a Flexible & Managed Workforce.
Efficiency features prominently throughout the programme as the public demands more accountability and less wastage of resources in all areas of government services. The Council aims to minimise the costs associated with landfills by maintaining higher rates of recycling, re-set budgets and improve budget management according to outcomes and needs. The goal is to ensure the highest value from external contracts in areas such as Insurance, Occupational Health or Transport, reduce the use of external consultants by using internal resources, invest in Early Learning and Childcare, council housing, and amenity services, and streamline management by prioritising frontline services.
Commercialism and Income generation will focus on achieving economic and social benefits for the region. The proposed initiatives range from the introduction of charges for Electric Vehicle charging points to increasing the income from radio masts. The goal is to create an Energy Strategy that helps reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency while ensuring that the community benefits by working within the communities, local partners and the Scottish Government.
Redesign and Lean projects have been introduced for commercial waste, street cleansing, the allocation of resources in schools, staff travel and trade services with the aim of improving Asset Management, Property Rationalisation and Investment, and Transport Services.
The final theme in the programme is the creation of a flexible and well-managed workforce that reflects the unique opportunities and challenges of the culture, communities and geography of the Highlands.
Businesses are also being incentivised to adopt a net zero business strategy through the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). HIE works with local authorities, Business Gateway, Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Development International to offer products and services including business planning, product development, financing, skills, growth and exporting, and developing fair work and an inclusive approach to business development.
Companies are not only looking to achieve offsetting. Rather, they aim to achieve a range of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the reduction of poverty through community economic development.
Associations like the Highlands and Islands Environment Foundation offer grants to Local non-profit organisations, associations, clubs or unions, social cooperative enterprises and/or other local bodies that aim to improve the environment and “create measurable and sustainable long-term results, build capacity and encourage participation by the local society.”
One Scottish company who has successfully adopted sustainable practices in their business model is WoodBlocX. Featured on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, WoodBlocX creates bespoke raised beds, raised ponds, retaining walls and steps, and garden furniture. They provide light and versatile modular products that are easy to assemble, with no need for power tools, fitting together using dowels made from recycled plastic.
Working with Munro Harvesting and Greenbeard Forestry, WoodBlocX uses local Scots Pine which is sustainably sourced, replanted, and rough sawn. They only use slow grown pine and do not use wood containing the heart of the tree to produce the highest quality UK timber on the market.
Munro harvesting, established over 35 years ago, offers tailored harvesting solutions to deliver harvesting objectives in a site-specific, sensitive manner for environmentally focused organisations like WoodBlocX.
Based primarily in the Highlands, Greenbeard Forestry provides consultancy and professional forestry management. They create long-term plans for commercial woodland aiming to maximise productivity and sustainability, deal with grant applications, aid with harvest planning, and focus on native woodland restoration.
Another leader in sustainability is Highlands Rewilding, an initiative dedicated to growing biodiversity and lowering carbon levels while creating new green jobs by involving the community in rewilding the Scottish Highlands.
Of course, tourism plays a major role in the Highlands, and it too has seen significant improvements in how it strives for sustainability. Wilderness Scotland has been providing adventure holidays for cyclists, walkers, paddlers and climbers for over 20 years. Winner of numerous awards for sustainability, including the Best Green Tour Operator in the World Travel Awards, this company has held the coveted Green Tourism Business Schemes’ gold award for over 25 years.
Eagle Brae is another eco-friendly company in the tourism industry. They offer carbon-neutral holidays and are entirely self-sufficient, using their own micro-hydro scheme using sustainable and natural underground water supply to provide electricity and hot water to cabins and free vehicle charging points. They even encourage guests to plant a tree to offset the carbon footprint of their journey.
The Scottish government was one of the first to sign up to adopt Global Sustainability Goals in 2019, with almost 200 other countries quickly following suit. They consequently made amendments to Scotland’s Climate Change Bill to set a 2045 target for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases and increase the targets for 2030 and 2040.
With such an array of technical and financial support available, the added respectability for a company’s brand, and so many examples of businesses who have successfully introduced practices to increase sustainability, it has never been easier for companies and individuals to make the change and make a more beautiful Scotland for our and future generations.