Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance, Economy and regeneration

Closing the loop on Community Wealth Building

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Community Wealth Building (CWB) is emerging as a new economic development model in Scotland, promising to combat persistent inequalities by leveraging the power of local institutions to increase local benefits of investment and lock in communities’ own wealth. In this LGIU article, Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, outlines how the shift towards CWB must now integrate circular economy principles to allow communities to navigate the climate and biodiversity crisis, thus fostering thriving communities within the planet’s limits. 

CWB offers Scotland an alternative economic development path, which looks to lock in the positive impacts of investment and wealth-generating activity, maximising benefits for local communities. In contrast to the current extractive model, which has left many communities facing significant inequality, a lack of opportunities and entrenched child poverty, CWB offers a practical solution for delivering a well-being economy.

CWB’s five-pillar model outlines how local anchor organisations (such as councils, health boards, universities, housing associations, or large private sector employers) can use their resources and influence to shape better outcomes for the communities they serve. As organisations with significant purchasing power, they can work together using procurement and commissioning to direct funding and spending towards social enterprises and employee-owned firms which deliver social and economic benefits for local communities. By managing their land and property assets these institutions can transform derelict and underused sites to better serve community needs. And by adopting fair work practices, they can shape local labour markets to increase wellbeing and prosperity for individuals and businesses.

CWB thus represents a paradigm shift in how we think about wealth generation and economic development, and it is rightly gaining significant traction, with pilots in Clackmannanshire, Fife, Glasgow, South of Scotland, and the Western Isles in full swing.

However, given that we are living in a climate and nature emergency, there is a pressing need for the CWB framework to take better account of the environmental challenges associated with economic development and take steps to mitigate these. With almost 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint coming from all of the products we produce, consume, and ultimately throw away, our unsustainable resource consumption is at the very heart of the multiple environmental challenges we face, from climate change to biodiversity loss, water stress and pollution.

We must, therefore, ensure that the products and services local anchor institutions procure for their communities are not only good for local businesses and social enterprises, but also good for the planet. Thus, where possible, anchor organisations should opt for re-use, repair, or rental services over buying new or sourced circular products that design out waste and regenerate natural systems. Doing so will not only ensure prosperity for local communities but safeguard the planet, on which our long-term well-being is entirely dependent.

As a pioneer of the circular economy, Scotland has many well-developed circular businesses and social enterprises from which local anchor institutions can procure goods and services. Zero Waste Scotland has supported over 300 businesses across the country, helping them adopt circular business models, and they now offer an alternative pathway to economic prosperity one which balances local benefit with global responsibility.

Circular Communities Scotland’s Re-use Consortium offers a prime example of what can be achieved when CWB and the circular economy are integrated. Several local authorities, housing associations and other public actors now purchase quality-assured furniture and white goods from the re-use consortium comprising 10 social enterprises. Instead of importing cheap, mass-produced products from multinational corporations and transporting them across global supply chains, these bodies purchase second-hand furniture from local social enterprises. Doing so often allows them to gain access to higher-quality goods for a lower price, resulting in better outcomes for citizens and cost savings for local authorities facing budget constraints. Indeed, in 2023, they saved an estimated £342,745 by purchasing from the re-use consortium instead of buying new. Instead of going into the pockets of the shareholders of corporations, the money spent goes directly to the social enterprises which are doing vital work in their communities, such as tackling homelessness and poverty, and providing employment and training opportunities. And this model delivers for the planet too. The 28,161 furniture items re-used through the consortium between 2016 and 2023 diverted approximately 1.2 million kg of waste from landfill, saving 3,200T of CO2eq emissions from polluting the earth’s atmosphere.

This goes to show the scale of what can be achieved when circular principles are integrated into the CWV framework. Whether procuring food or sports equipment, Zero Waste Scotland has developed procurement guidelines and commodity guidance, which can help local anchor institutions ensure that the goods and services they procure are minimising life-cycle impacts and environmental harm. By integrating these principles into the CWB framework, we can ensure that Scotland’s communities thrive within the planet’s limits.

Circular thinking is not limited only to procurement and spending practices but can also help deliver environmental and social value with regard to how local anchor institutions manage their land and property assets. Renovation and retrofitting, for example, can help regenerate areas while protecting their unique character and preventing valuable building materials from going to waste. Zero Waste Scotland has developed a net-zero building standard to help local authorities and other public bodies ensure that their buildings and property assets align with net-zero ambitions.

Local anchor institutions could also use their vacant properties to enable the circular economy, creating spaces where citizens can share, repair and refurbish their products. Scotland has over 60 repair cafes and sharing libraries across the country. By providing opportunities for socialising, opening outlets for creative pursuits, or simply saving residents time and money, these spaces are driving significant environmental and social value.

CWV and the circular economy are the innovative tools needed to build a better future. By embracing these tools, local organisations can continue delivering essential goods and services in their communities, but will also be empowered to do so in a way that maximises positive outcomes for local people while safeguarding the environment.

All that is required is deep collaboration and encouragement to step out of existing silos and for us all to work proactively with new actors. Moray Waste Busters is exemplary of this collaborative approach, where the local authority and a local charity have joined forces to maximise re-use efforts, divert waste from landfill and reduce local authority costs. While also creating fair and rewarding employment opportunities and raising income for charitable activities.

By integrating circular economy principles into the shift to CWB, the right conditions are created for mainstreaming such partnerships. The templates for success already exist. We can learn from these and share the knowledge and experience to show that a new economy – one genuinely dedicated to delivering for people and the planet – is within our reach.



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