Building Back Better: Principles for sustainable resource use in a wellbeing economy. A report from the Decoupling Advisory Group to Zero Waste Scotland

Gioele Figus, John Barrett, Barry Johnston, Iain Black, Craig Dalzell, Alex Hilliam, Andrew Kerr, Tom McKenna, Catherine Payne, Timothee Parrique, Dave Reay, Colin Reid, Jack Barrie, Aedan Smith, Katherine Trebeck, Ruth Wolstenholme

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For the first time in history, the amount of virgin materials entering the global economy annually has exceeded 100 billion tonnes. The extraction and processing of materials is responsible for about half the world’s carbon emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss. Such high levels of resource consumption are causing, and will continue to cause, irreparable damage to the Earth’s ecosystems, on which society and the global economy are wholly dependent. The Covid-19 crisis is being seen by environmentalists as a direct consequence of humanity’s broken relationship with nature. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, Scotland’s legacy has also contributed to the environmental problems brought about by overconsumption and the nation must therefore take necessary action to solve them.
A Green Recovery Plan for Scotland offers an opportunity to address the social injustice exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis and the wider, long-term ecological injustice. Green growth, or continued economic growth with reducing environmental impact, is increasingly being offered as an approach to ‘Build Back Better’, by addressing social inequalities whilst reducing Scotland’s ecological footprint.
This report, however, highlights that green growth does not guarantee a ‘fair’ recovery, nor has it shown evidence of reducing resource use fast enough to prevent climate and ecological breakdown. Furthermore, the global economic response to Covid-19 is set to exacerbate social and environmental injustices. Across 16 major economies, economic stimulus packages announced so far will invest
USD 2.2 trillion (£1.74 trillion) directly into sectors that have a large and lasting negative impact on nature.

Shifting to a wellbeing economy provides an effective alternative to green growth and is already gaining traction in Scotland as an approach. A wellbeing economy is one which ensures ‘an equitable distribution of wealth, health and wellbeing, while protecting the planet’s resources for future generations and other species’. Achieving a wellbeing economy will require an absolute, permanent and just reduction in Scotland’s resource use at a rate fast enough to ensure it remains within critical local and global ecological limits.
This paper asks how this could be feasibly done. The Decoupling Advisory Group presents to Zero Waste Scotland a set of Green Recovery policy principles for resource use within a wellbeing economy. Immediate actions for a Green Recovery Strategy based on these principles are also outlined. The Decoupling Advisory Group believes that adopting this approach across the Scottish Government and public sector agencies will enable Scotland to truly Build Back Better and create a wellbeing economy by Making Things Last.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • waste
  • Scotland
  • sustainable resource
  • consumption
  • circular economy


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