Gillian Galloway: Developments in the Highlands and Islands may be key to a greener Scotland


Through Gillian Galloway

One of the greatest threats to the world’s population is climate change. Scotland has set an ambitious target of being net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK, as part of the global initiative to resolve the climate emergency. And with next year’s COP26 taking place in Glasgow, the world’s attention will be on Scotland.

Companies would need to evolve and build “greener” and sustainable business practices to minimize their environmental impact in order to meet this net zero goal. This may involve modifying the design of goods, methods of processing, packaging and transportation. By increasing resilience and mitigating the effects of external factors, such as supply shortages, shifts in demand for goods and services, and even severe weather events, these changes can have a positive impact.

Companies can find that this change to a more sustainable model strengthens their brand value and improves their image. This will open up potential consumers who buy goods or services directly based on sustainability characteristics, which is a win-win for distributors and a net-zero goal.

The spirit of creativity and ingenuity of Scotland has long been known and continues to revolutionize the world in which we live. We pioneered the production of green energy, for instance. In conjunction with rich natural resources that can be harnessed, this enthusiasm for exploring the limits of what is possible allows for exciting outcomes.

At the forefront of moving towards a low-carbon future are the Highlands and Islands. Orkney, for example, is converting bad weather into energy by leveraging its geographic location and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. The elements are powered by wind turbines, producing electricity that satisfies 120 percent of the needs of the islanders. In fueling cars and ferries with hydrogen generated from water electrolyzed by wind and tidal generators, great strides are being made.

A greener future isn’t just about renewable sources of energy, though. Take single-use plastics, for example, as plastics are derived from fossil fuels and many have no end-of-life solution, a prevalent problem on the climate change agenda. In order to derive full value from sustainably farmed algae, Oceanium, a start-up based in Oban, has developed a ‘green and clean’ biorefinery technology. To substitute current food packaging, it uses seaweed to produce compostable, ocean-safe bio-packaging. There are two benefits: sustainable algae farming mitigates climate change by removing carbon and nitrogen, in addition to offering a creative solution to a real-world crisis. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) recognized the promise here and granted Oceanium its first innovation grant in 2018, catalyzing its research and development efforts.

More environmentally friendly processes are being embraced by companies such as Skyeskyns, a commercial woolskin tannery in Waternish on the Isle of Skye. High-quality, handmade sheepskins and woolen products are manufactured by the family-owned company. This changed from a method of mineral tanning to a vegetable one known as “veg tan,” which uses mimosa bark. Not only did this make the company more efficient and ensure that its processes were environmentally friendly, but it also contributed to an increase in production and business development. The innovation team of HIE provided testing and funding that allowed tanners to access advanced expertise and perform comprehensive tests to ensure the quality of the product. The transition to vegetarian tanning has resulted in a more effective waste water system that drains into a reed bed, producing a circular economy by using the sediment as fertilizer.

This is just a snapshot of the low-carbon innovation that is taking place across the Highlands and Islands in companies, but it illustrates the immense potential. If something has taught us this year, how crucial it is to take care of what we have: our health, our human beings, our world. In order to lead to a net-zero Scotland, Lockdown has demonstrated what a lower-carbon environment might look like, and we need creative companies to continue to push the limits.

At Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Gillian Galloway is head of innovation at


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