Scotland Approach to Sustainable Development in 2023

solar panel environmental graphic

Scotland’s approach to sustainable development combines economic, social and environmental considerations into an holistic framework for development that acknowledges our interdependent planet where needs of both people and planet are interrelated.

Zero Waste Scotland operates food and drink business support services as well as consumer engagement campaigns (Love Food Hate Waste). Their work has resulted in lifetime cost and carbon savings.

Policy Coherence

As environmental and social challenges continue to intensify, policy coherence becomes ever more essential for meeting our goals. This involves encouraging synergies among economic, social and environmental policies; managing tradeoffs appropriately; considering interlinkages and trans-boundary impacts when making decisions; as well as considering interlinkages that might arise from them.

Subsidies to one industry in one country could have unintended negative repercussions for environmental conservation elsewhere. Furthermore, international trade policy could favour certain countries at the expense of others without proper consideration of all impacts. While tradeoffs may be unavoidable in certain circumstances, policy coherence strives to minimise their negative impact.

Scotland is a global leader in sustainable living, boasting numerous ground-breaking initiatives and projects related to community renewables, local food systems, waste reduction strategies and ecological footprinting. All this work is supported by both Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Government who collaborate closely on setting meaningful baselines and measurement strategies in this key area of performance evaluation.

The Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework is fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and provides a clear framework for sustainable practices to be integrated into public services decisions. But sustainability shouldn’t just be addressed by governments; all sectors must consider it when making decisions affecting society as a whole; this is why organisations like Scotland International Development Alliance aim to incorporate global citizenship education into Scotland’s curriculum.


Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a crucial aspect of Scotland’s future economy and society, recognizing the interconnections among people, planet and economy – an issue being tackled across communities across Scotland in various forms.

Forward Scotland was one of the pioneering grants programs to support sustainable communities between 1997-99, producing projects like community renewables, local food systems and waste management as well as ecocals – precursor to ecological footprinting. Another community initiative is the Circular Economy Investment Fund with PS18 Million invested to assist small businesses and organisations working toward creating a circular economy in Scotland.

Zero Waste Scotland has been instrumental in supporting the Government’s commitment to increasing policy coherence for sustainability. Their work in setting an achievable baseline and measurement strategy for Scotland’s food waste reduction targets ensures we remain on track towards reaching our 33% reduction by 2025 target. They have also played a critical role in driving more sustainable public procurement through their Marrakech Approach to Sustainable Public Procurement work as well as helping establish “Green Tourism” Quality Assurance as part of Quality Assurance measures for Scottish hotels and businesses.

Circular Economy

Circular economy refers to an approach in which products and materials are designed for reuse and recycling rather than disposal after use, thus helping reduce waste, pollution and conserve natural resources by uncoupling growth from resource extraction.

In its 2021-2022 Programme for Government, the Scottish government made an undertaking to introduce a Circular Economy Bill as part of their 2021-2022 Program of Government. This legal framework would facilitate transition to circular economy by designing products to last longer while encouraging reuse, repair and recycling.

Businesses will need to report waste and surplus materials and potentially share this information with local authorities. Furthermore, fixed penalty notices will be issued against vehicles which litter from vehicles – helping combat roadside litter while decreasing waste material sent directly to landfill.

LINK will collaborate with other organisations and movements to foster significant shifts toward a circular economy in Scotland, by building coalitions, campaigns, workshops and events, sharing best practice, co-operative advocacy and cooperative advocacy. Furthermore, it will strive to enhance economic discourse by challenging assumptions that wellbeing or environmental sustainability come second to economic growth ambitions – challenging even the idea that resource consumption and economic expansion can coexist without negative environmental repercussions.

Waste Reduction

Waste reduction has taken center stage during the Covid-19 pandemic and has spurred numerous community-led activities across Australia and New Zealand. Much of this growth can be attributed to Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet episode as many individuals seek ways to make an impactful statement against littering and single use plastics within their local areas.

It has provided a welcome boost to efforts at all levels to align Scotland’s National Outcomes and Sustainable Development Goals and ensure progress toward attaining them is being made. However, additional work must be undertaken in ensuring all policy actions promote sustainable development aspirations.

The Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill can assist by giving our National Performance Framework legal standing, giving a more clear picture of our progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 11 national outcomes. Furthermore, this legislation would strengthen short-term and long-term goals as well as require institutions to consider the wider repercussions of decisions and actions both here in Scotland as well as globally.

This could be further strengthened by broadening the current legal requirement to include sustainable considerations when procuring, and making reporting on progress toward National Outcomes and SDGs legal obligations for public bodies and local authorities. The Physiological Society will continue supporting Scottish members by raising awareness of how their research can support SDGs related to health, well-being and environmental protection.