It’s not so grim up north: Scotland making progress on all resource fronts

Written by: Dr Adam Read | Published:
Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo Energy & Environment

Each month, Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo Energy & Environment, discusses the big issues from his point of view, and this month considers the speed of progress being made in Scotland and where the future lies for kerbside recycling

This month will be a briefer than normal blog, as the day job is really kicking-in, and the last few weeks have been busy, and the next few weeks look even busier, so I am squeezing this blog in while travelling back from Glasgow and sitting at the airport waiting for my delayed flight (only 15 minutes later than planned).

There was a time when the thought of spending three days in Scotland would send shivers down my spine, probably a combination of my fear of the Scottish weather (it does rain a lot), the stereotyping of the Scots being a little tight with their cash, and an industry-wide held view that little was ‘happening’ in the waste sector with little drive for change... well, how wrong could I be! For early October the weather was beautiful, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the hospitality excellent, and the drive and commitment from all levels of the sector obvious to all, so much has changed in the last few years and Scotland really is leading the way from a UK perspective.

Selling Apprentice style?

My Scottish-based team had invited me up to facilitate a workshop and deliver some training on making contacts count, the value of conferences, and the art of ‘soft’ selling – after all they knew I was planning to be in Edinburgh for the two-day Scottish Resources Conference, co-hosted by Zero Waste Scotland and CIWM Scotland, and thought I could share some of my insights and experiences beforehand.

I have developed a course which draws heavily on the last 10 years of the BBC’s Apprentice, picking out both the highs and lows of the sales process. Getting the basics right is so important and we had a great session looking at why ‘selling’ works and what can slow your progress down. Selling doesn’t always come naturally to consultants and practitioners, but it is the lifeblood of consultancy, and the team really responded to the activities, role-play scenarios and the new tools and techniques we introduced. I am keen to hear how they have got on applying them in the real world in the coming months, but in the shorter term I had an opportunity to put my best practice to good use as I hopped over to Edinburgh for the biggest waste & resources conference in Scotland.

As an aside, I was fortunate to get home just in time for the first episode in this year’s new series of the Apprentice, and already I am assessing the candidates, thinking about new materials for use in my training course, and enjoying the large than life characters that want to go into business with Lord Alan Sugar – Thursday nights until Christmas will be both entertaining and educational in equal amounts, and I recommend you all tune in for the next episode.

The Scottish Resource Conference – Building a Circular Economy Together

Anyway, back to the main reason I had ventured north, to support my team at the industry’s biggest event in Scotland, with Jamie Pitcairn delivering one of the workshop presentations on Day One looking at the bio-economy and circular economy loops in the organics space, which is building on work we have been undertaking for ZWS. A fascinating topic and one that fitted in well with the themes of Day One, namely innovation, progress and big ticket change.

There is no doubt that in the last decade Scotland has really built a momentum in terms of its waste and resource management platform. They have developed a clear co-operative approach and a joined-up policy agenda which has placed the circular economy at the heart of its strategy. They have provided centralised funding (who said the Scots were tight?) to support quality recycling, have developed a household recycling charter to aid co-ordination and harmonisation, and have engaged with industry/businesses direct to drive resource, energy and water efficiency. Scottish performance has improved 10-fold and looks likely to continue to outpace England with this clear agenda, view of life, and associated financial and regulatory support. Well done Team Scotland; buck up your ideas Team England!!

Scottish progress – suck it up!

The conference showcased a great deal of what has been achieved and what the next agenda items will be for those living and working in Scotland. We were introduced to carbon accounting, community enterprises, social change movements, while the new Scottish environment minister (Roseanna Cunningham) set out her thoughts on the next steps including working closer with the EU on the circular economy package and the Scottish circular economy strategy, where she believes Scotland can lead the way at a European level.

She was also keen to emphasise that there was more to be done at a municipal level with recycling levels, but the focus would be on quality and appropriateness, while continuing to support businesses to make rational decisions that are good for business and for the long term sustainability of the Scottish environment and economy. She was also supportive of the need for better partnerships, between local authorities, with the private sector and up and down the supply chain to make things happen, and openly omitted the introduction of a Circular Economy Bill before the Scottish Parliament in under five years – bold words indeed.

When questioned she was candid, as you would expect from a new minister, but she supported the concept of three and four-weekly collections, and would not rule out mandatory recycling if performances did not continue to improve. How refreshing I thought, and would we ever see a minister being so bold and so open in England on these topics? I fear not.

Day Two of the event was a little more ‘on the ground’ with real world examples and case studies supporting the claims of Day One. We heard about the roll-out of four-weekly collections in Falkirk (they are convinced it is the right thing to do, as am I), we were introduced to advances in waste technologies now being used to create local energy, fuels, and products for the Scottish economy, and were introduced to a number of communications, engagement and behavioural change campaigns that really seem to be working. And if that wasn’t enough, we saw first-hand how the Isle of Bute is delivering on its zero waste and circular economy principles through effective bottom-up engagement, clear policies, and great educational activities – well done everyone!

Making contacts count?

It is certainly my intention to summarise all of the workshops, case studies and key note presentations here – as I said earlier my flight will be boarding in a few minutes – but I would advise that you check out the CIWM and Zero Waste Scotland websites for further details of the event and the materials presented. They are well worth a scan.

However, the real benefit of being there was the coffee and lunch breaks which were suitably long to encourage us to enjoy the exhibition and get stuck into some detailed conversations with peers, clients, colleagues and strangers....... so it was a good thing that my training course of best practice principles was fresh in my mind, and I made sure I used all the tricks of the trade to open up new conversations, discuss possible opportunities and share some of my experiences. Looks like I will be heading north again soon to follow up on one or two of these leads, so if anyone is interested in my bespoke sales and networking training, drop me a line, I would be more than happy to discuss how it might help you and your colleagues.

As I reflect on a hectic three days, my over-riding feelings are of warmth, drive, passion, and progress. The weather was great (which always helps), the presentations were a nice blend of thought-provoking big picture and local real-world case studies, and the people were committed to learning, to sharing, and to acting upon the new ideas they had gathered.

If the Scottish Government, SEPA, Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish local authorities can harness all this energy and commitment then I expect the next 12 months to be another highly successful period of resource transition north of the border, and as a frustrated Englishman my attention will shift north more and more.

I expect I will be back in Scotland next month to follow up on some leads, and to work with our existing portfolio of clients on what seem to be ground-breaking studies, step-change implementation, or hard-core partnerships, all in line with the policies and principles we had seen and heard over the two days. Just a shame that I am less enthusiastic about the opportunities down south right now, but perhaps things might take a turn for the better this week?

Anyone going to LARAC on Tuesday?

In the meantime, I am fortunate enough to be going to LARAC this week for what I hope will be an equally stimulating two days of sessions, case studies and insights. My colleague Gareth Morton will be presenting on one of the hottest topics of the current time – Recycling contamination – while I will be chairing a question time debate on the other, 'Harmonisation or local choice in recycling service design?'

So if you are planning on being in Nottingham come and see me, and I can share more of what I saw/heard in Scotland, or share my insights from my own experiences on these major issues facing the local authority recycling space....... people are at the heart of this sector, and the transformation required, so I hope we can start with the people at LARAC this week and build the vision and roadmap that we need together......

I just pray that I am not disappointed as the bar was set high by the Scottish clan last week, and I fear that a lack of English-based priority policy, funding and direction will frustrate many of the 400 authority officers who will be joining me for LARAC2016. I hope not, so if you are coming your challenge is clear; cheer me up and show me and your peers the way ahead. After all Scotland isn’t big enough for us all to relocate, and of course I am available to discuss this year’s Apprentice candidates and their virtues and limitations over a cuppa.

As with all my ‘comments’ they are mine and mine alone. If you would like to get in touch or share your opinions then email me on For more of my blogs please refer to

Adam is global practice director for Ricardo Energy & Environment’s resource efficiency and waste management practice, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Royal Geographical Society. He has more than 20 years of waste sector strategy, service design, procurement and communications experience, both in the UK and overseas, and is a regular industry commentator, author and conference speaker, both in the UK and around the world.

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