Scotland’s sustainability journey can be a win-win for everybody

Stuart McKill (left) and Barry Fisher

SCOTLAND’S construction industry has been hailed by environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful for its role in helping the country meet ambitious sustainability targets.

Chief executive Barry Fisher and Stuart McKill, an experienced construction industry leader who is now a trustee of the charity, told Project Scotland of their encouragement at the number of construction-related businesses partaking in the charity’s climate emergency training, and participation in the National Award for Environmental Excellence, which provides an appraisal of a firm’s environmental management systems and offers recommendations and benchmark comparisons.

With the construction and built environment sector accounting for a significant percentage of carbon emissions, collaboration with charities such as Keep Scotland Beautiful is integral to delivering a greener future.

Barry Fisher said the aim is to encourage businesses rather than work against them.

“A lot of what this is about is behaviour change,” he revealed. “We’re asking people to do things in a slightly different way. That’s not always to their detriment.

“We are a positive organisation. The environment can be (portrayed as) quite a negative space, telling people it’s all awful. We forget to tell people it could be quite good for Scotland. We could win in the way that Scotland did pretty well out of the industrial revolution.

“Equally, we believe organisations want to make a change – no more so than the construction sector.”

Keep Scotland Beautiful has four core aims: combat climate change; tackle litter and waste; restore nature and biodiversity; and improve places.

The charity engages with thousands of young people each month and is involved with around half of the nation’s schools, delivering a range of programmes. Part of the education offering involves talking about why certain materials are used. In Glasgow, the organisation has worked with Jacobs and AtkinsRéalis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) programmes. Campaign teams run a whole series of activities throughout the year- with more than 45,000 people participating in Spring Clean 2024

Particularly pertinent to construction is the work carried out by Keep Scotland Beautiful’s community and heritage team.

“If you are aware of your local history, you become more engaged and proud and suddenly you’re looking after it,” Barry explained. “It’s a fantastically simple equation. We’ve done some brilliant projects with Scottish Canals – remedial work, cleaning culverts, and survey work.”

Stuart McKill, who was formerly sustainable habitat leader for Saint-Gobain in Scotland, has helped bring a more commercial focus to Keep Scotland Beautiful in support of the charity’s goals. He revealed he is proud of the work the charity has carried out around Carbon Literacy, for which it is now an accredited platinum organisation working with The Carbon Literacy Project.

“We’ve trained over 5,500 people on carbon literacy,” Stuart said. “That goes from CEOs down to the absolute worker bees.

“Related to the construction sector, we’ve delivered bespoke climate emergency training. We worked with the likes of McLaughlin & Harvey, GRAHAM, McAleer & Rushe, and Henry Brothers to make sure we had the right balance within the programmes. We are listening to what the construction industry tells us and modelling the training on where they think we can create the most value when we deliver those courses to their employees.

“We get quite a lot of repeat bookings from the construction industry. When they come to tender for projects, they can sell the fact that they’ve acted and continue to act and develop their programmes (around sustainability).

“We have also delivered climate emergency training for eight of the leading social housing providers in Scotland. There are 600,000 units of social housing in Scotland so it’s a massive opportunity for us to impact our greenhouse gas emissions and the quality of the environment.”

Part of the training is about providing a supportive environment for stakeholders to ask difficult questions without being derided as a climate change denier. There is an opportunity for individuals to test what they thought was true and then emerge with better knowledge.

Small things on construction sites can make a difference, such as ensuring there’s no litter around buildings and properly dealing with waste. Stuart provided an anecdote from his own career in construction involving a site in Chorley which manufactured roof trusses.

“The main waste we had were the bands from timber packaging, wrappers from floor joists and other materials, and offcuts of timber,” he said. “Everything got chucked in a skip and we had 40-foot skips going out of the site at £70 a time. Then we started to break that down and ended up with plastic waste that we would bale, so we got a return on investment in a baling machine. The timber waste we were able to send to manufacturing. We also got money for paper and cardboard packaging. What we were left with was the scrapings off the floor and food waste from the canteen, which we were able to put in the council collection. In a year, the cost savings were massive and it was actually all quite simple. We’d just never stopped to look at it.”

Barry believes Scotland is in the midst of a ‘really exciting period’ and cited the nation’s history of innovation as a reason to be optimistic that the sustainability journey will result in a raft of positive outcomes.

For construction companies, there are commercial advantages in doing things more sustainably – and it’s perfectly acceptable to take advantage of that.

“It’s okay for businesses to do well because they’ve adopted good practice,” Barry explained. “It’s a win-win-win for everybody, because there’s a third bit which is that the customers get an important product.

“Keep Scotland Beautiful is the name of our charity, but it should be a national mission. Whether you’re public/private/third sector, whether you’re large or small, everyone is invested surely.

“There is an economic angle here. We know the private sector is much more mature than just thinking about the bottom line now. Equally, it’s how we mobilise communities, work together, and break down some of the barriers and demystify some of the issues around the environment.

“We’re absolutely about inspiring people to do things, whether that’s business, communities, or organisations.”