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New research from Zero Waste Scotland and Circle Economy reveals scale of sustainable jobs

Posted: 30th October 2020

More than 200,000 jobs are already contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable Scotland, while thousands more roles could be created through the green recovery post-Covid19, experts have found.

A landmark report from Zero Waste Scotland and Circle Economy published today (Wednesday 28 October, 2020) shows the number of existing Scottish jobs operating within the circular economy, which keeps goods and materials in a ‘loop’ of use to maximise their value and minimise waste and the carbon emissions that causes.

It comes as Scotland’s decision-makers look to grow new ‘green’ jobs as they plan the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland’s circular economy expert organisation, Zero Waste Scotland, helps businesses and consumers reduce waste and emissions to combat climate change. It produced the report – the first national assessment of ‘circular’ jobs and of future requirements for roles and skills in three priority areas in Scotland – working with fellow experts at Circle Economy in the Netherlands.

The circular economy is about making things last: through smarter design, and reusing, repairing and remanufacturing to create new items from old – all to keep products and materials within the economy for as long as possible.

It promises to maximise value from the goods we already have in circulation while relieving pressure on finite natural materials, like oil and precious metals. These resources are in high demand to create new products, yet those products are often thrown away by consumers after only a short amount of time.

Findings from the report, entitled The Future of Work: Baseline Employment Analysis and Skills Pathways for the Circular Economy, show Scotland is in a strong position to benefit from the circular economy, with 8.1% of jobs already linked to the circular economy. That’s on a par with other countries where similar  assessments have been conducted, like the Netherlands and Belgium.

The research also identifies a wide-ranging mix of new circular roles and skills needed to help Scotland Build Back Better by forging a truly national circular economy. It sets out a vision of the future of work in three priority areas – construction, the bioeconomy and capital projects, such as decommissioning energy infrastructure from oil rigs to wind turbines.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said:

“Scotland has long been recognised as a leading nation on the circular economy so it’s heartening to see that so many jobs are already operating within circular business models, and we know there is scope for many more.

“As a nation we are preparing to Build Back Better following the coronavirus pandemic – while we’re just 12 months away from some of the most important climate negotiations of recent times in COP26, being held in Glasgow next year¹. What better time to make sure we stimulate growth while respecting the limits of our natural environment.


“The circular economy offers a way forward that can help Covid-hit businesses futureproof their operations, making them less vulnerable to future supply chain issues, while also generating opportunities for inward investment and new ‘green’ jobs.”

Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said:

“In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever that we design a better future and see things put back together differently. It is vital that we draw on our experience of coronavirus – the things we’ve learned about how we work, travel and live – and apply this to our approach to Scotland’s green recovery, and to achieving net-zero.

“A thriving circular economy will play a critical role in ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change, and we must all – government, businesses, industry and individuals – be a part of driving this – and to ensuring our journey to net-zero is fair for everyone.

“I welcome the Future of Work report, which shows we are well on our way to evolving jobs that help drive our net-zero ambitions while ensuring we deliver a fairer economy in which everyone in Scotland can thrive.”

The study has been launched alongside a Circular Jobs Monitor tool from partner Circle Economy. This online tool enables users to see how many of a country’s existing jobs are associated with the circular economy, and how it compares to other nations.

Scotland’s figure includes directly circular jobs – such as those in the repair sector, design-related fields like architecture, or renting and leasing activities – as well as indirectly circular jobs, such as teachers, which provide services to primary circular activities.

The study shows that most circular jobs in Scotland are concentrated in southwestern and eastern regions, together accounting for more than 75% of all circular Scottish jobs – although in relative terms, all regions show a similar circular share of employment of between 7% and 9.8%. Further information about regional circular jobs can be found on pages 18 to 23 of the report.

Mr Gulland continued: “For Scotland to maximise the benefits of a more sustainable economy we need to work towards all jobs being ‘circular’. It’s important to ensure we overcome Covid-19 and end our nation’s contribution to the climate crisis by 2045.

“Our landmark report identifies how we can do that, highlighting gaps which we need to fill and exciting new job opportunities in three key sectors. The circular economy is an opportunity for all parts of Scotland, urban and rural, to benefit from forward-looking jobs that are less susceptible to market pressures and help preserve our environment at the same time.”

The Future of Work: Baseline Employment Analysis and Skills Pathways for the Circular Economy is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website.

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