SSN conference 8 November 2013

A personal reflection on the 2013 SSN [Sustainable Scotland Network] Conference for members of the Scottish Communities Climate Action Network  by Alan Brown, Chair of Transition Linlithgow

Well that’s it over – phew. Home at last. Feet up, fire on, clothes drying out from the wet walk back from the station. A pile of leaflets by my side, scribbled notes and my head buzzing with the words spoken in formal presentations and informal chats throughout the day. My challenge? To report back to Scottish Communities CAN members and provide a snapshot of the conference. Just what are the public sector up to to tackle climate change and how can Scottish Communities CAN members connect? Jo Wright [co-opted steering group member, Scottish Communities CAN) and I attended the 2013 SSN conference, and we have agreed to split our reporting approach. Jo would write from the perspective of what might be relevant to the board of Scottish Communities CAN and I would write from a community group viewpoint.

An outsider’s perspective

I’ve been to 3 of these annual SSN conferences now and have seen several changes over the years. The conference has always been well organised, co-ordinated and delivered. As a community member, you feel like a fish out of water. Surrounded in a sea of smart business suits, public sector workers greet each other like old friends and conversations are exchanged on the myriad of challenges that public bodies must comply with under law.

You have to respect the efforts going on. Piloting LED street lighting, reducing emissions from fleet vehicles, reviewing procurement policies and so on. Cries for help from the community sector to meet our objectives must be an additional stress to their workload.

SSN is now much wider. They’ve opened up membership to include the wider public sector and now have gone from 100 to 250 members, covering over 60 organisations and they have around 800 on their mailing list. Bringing in these other organisations has allowed them to shift from viewing Climate Change as a compliance & regulatory thing, into an opportunity, a chance to benefit and to think differently. This conference was entitled ‘Win Win Win’ and some of the speakers motivated the audience through stories of success, and creative thinking on a range of topic.

The format for the day was fairly standard: welcome, initial presentations, guest speakers, coffee, focus workshops, time to network, lunch, more presentations and time for Q&A too. Rather than detail what each speaker said, I’ll leave you to find that on the SSN website which will soon include videos and slides.  On the website, particular attention should be paid to the new ‘Portal’ tab – a new resource section and also on the ‘Library’ tab beneath which are all of the local authority Climate Change Declaration Reports.

So… as a community group. The first thing we should do is respect that councils/public sector are not sitting doing nothing. Go click on the report for your own council and find out what they are up to. Strike up a conversation and explore how your project might align with theirs.

The Knowledge Exchange

The second part of the conference is what they call Knowledge Exchange Marketplace. A series of ‘stalls’ are set out. Each has a notice-board summarising what each project has done, what challenges it has faced, the outcomes and learnings for going forward.I didn’t have time to visit them all, but here’s a snippet of what I encountered. SSN will post these too on their website.

* Young Scot

Promoting their points and rewards scheme, working with young people and helping them to transition into a low carbon future. Giving out great advice, and a few incentives for participating and learning about a wide range of issues. Don’t forget that young adults may be experiencing things like first home purchase, first car, first energy bill to pay, etc. YS accepted that there’s been less practical engagement with young people and they hope community organisations will step forward and to offer opportunities to participate.

So…. when working on your community project. Think Young. How can you make it interesting and rewarding for young people to join in/lead/etc… Get in touch with YS, offer opportunities through their rewards scheme.


*Step UP

4 European cities financed through EU funding to develop Sustainable Energy Action Plans. One of them is our own city of Glasgow.

So… if you are in and around Glasgow then check out: – I only had a few moments chatting at this stall but it seems Glasgow seems keen to deliver lots of district heating projects. Ideal with so many housing association properties, close-living in flats etc. Community support will be critical to such a big change in people’s heating systems.


* Vegware

We all have small businesses in our towns, but do they know about the new tougher waste regulations. From 1st Jan 2014, ALL businesses in Scotland will be required to separate out dry recyclables, and food businesses will need to recycle too. have worked with 6 different businesses in Edinburgh; cafes, bakeries, deli’s, a school, bar, etc. They’ve learned all about the cost implications, opportunities and barriers and are able to share their learnings with others.

So… you could help local businesses in your area by making them aware and directing them to these pilot studies.


* Dumfries and Galloway Council – 100% RES communities project.

Since April 2012, ten rural communities have been helped to create Energy Action Plans with the support of the council. Looking at fuel poverty, hard to treat homes, off-gas grid issues etc. While we couldn’t take away copies, some of the EAP’s were on display and they clearly showed great support from the councils to help these communities to explore what was relevant to their area.

So… if you are wanting to do something similar, you could speak to this council. Chris Wood-Gee is the Team Leader. I think is good that they focused on the energy issues in these 10 communities, but I also think they missed an opportunity to engage the community on wider issues and to show how all things are inter-related. i.e. people who are fuel poor are often in food poverty too. Perhaps they did and I’m doing them an injustice.



* Resource Efficient Scotland – fairly new org, finding its feet, focusing on projects to build confidence in their ability to be a good support service. They need better marketing and clarity on what they do and don’t do. It’ll take time, but there’s a good team of people there, keen to help in any way they can.

* Paul Wheelhouse, MSP. – a good update report, good progress, we should be proud of our achievements so far but appreciate that there’s a lot more to do and recognising failing to meet annual CO2 targets because of baseline-maths and colder than expected weather! He committed to do more and was also confident and polite when dealing with one individual in the room who clearly was a climate skeptic. Paul accepted that it was difficult to focus from a Gov. perspective when the Environment Minister post kept changing and that hopefully that lesson had been learned.

He also mentioned the new Public Sector Leaders Forum which is starting to encourage good leadership, and also to highlight that it’s not enough to tell others, but personal action must be done too. Paul didn’t say though what he had done, but it highlights for Scottish Communities CAN members the need to not preach but to take action with yourself. There was a plug for the new community empowerment bill, ISM behaviour toolkit, climate adaptation, heat mapping for all of Scotland too.

* Tim Jenkins, New Economics Foundation. Motivating the audience into accepting that the current economic models a are failing us. Poor metrics like GDP, massive inequality and environmental aspects not being properly accounted for. On the positive side he referred to the Haringey Carbon Commission Report , about innovation labs, local currencies, time banking, energy credits, plugging leaks in local economies and local banks. Tim said we need a kind of Social Innovation.


Breakout Session – Homes and Communities

Of 4 different workshops, I chose this one and heard from CES, District Energy Partnership (Denmark) and Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. Most inspiring of the speakers was Morten Jordt Duedahl from DEP

Clearly Denmark had it tough in the1970’s and put most of their focus on district heating projects and home insulation, to the extent that now, 63% (1,632,000 homes) have district heating. That’s 450 schemes and a 40% reduction in CO2 savings with an aim of 100% renewable heat by 2035. This had created 15,000 jobs, 50% of which were involved in exporting their skills to other counties. DH systems remained owned by municipalities not for profit, but had the support of businesses to deliver and maintain the technology. He also highlighted that not all DH schemes were cheaper than natural gas, and that good quality viability studies were critical and often more important than technical studies. Denmark is clearly leading and he said Scotland could easily do the same, BUT that we needed to focus correctly. I paraphrase here. We should focus on a goal of having DH networks across Scotland and not a focus on trying to reduce CO2 and then looking for the projects to match. i.e. we should be cautious of only aiming for the cheaper short-term options and not being brave, more strategic and going for longer term bigger more costly projects which will save more in the long run.


Remaining Presentations

After lunch, we heard 3 people speak on the Triple Bottom Line. People, Planet and Profit:

Rita from Sustain Wales compared Wales to Scotland and explained the differences, economic, dependency on EU finance, loss of biodiversity, fuel poverty, inequality, etc. They were in the throes of producing a Future Generations Bill (avoiding the over used and distorted words Sustainable and Development), and mentioned the formation of CEW, a clone of our CES, so in some respects following Scotland, but in others leading in their own way.

Colin covered The Circular Economy, highlighting the errors in a linear economy of consumption without re-use, and design for repair etc. While this was a great presentation, I felt it weak on two points. Firstly, this felt more of a product ‘design’ issue, and fundamentally, products so need designed properly from the start. Secondly it seemed to skip the issues of consumption globally: as the population grows, more people want more stuff. Again I know little of this project and may be doing it a dis-service.

Dave from Uni of Edinburgh, spoke on Social Responsibility within large organisations like the University. Not just to save energy from buildings but to look at the impacts of procurement, investment portfolios, education processes, etc. He highlighted the need for Scenario Building and not Forecasting, to develop different stories of the future and encourage people to pick the one they really want. He also challenged us to think differently and to encourage creativity.

I have to be honest and say that the presentation on the Crown Estate at the end of the day was when I was drifting into a headache so I can’t do him justice. Mark presented well on the many positive aspects of what the Crown Estate was doing primarily on embedding sustainability into the core of its operations and not just viewing it as a peripheral activity. He did say though that this required him personally burning the midnight oil attending many many meetings across his organisation for a year or so and trying to make small incremental influences in all depts., and all meetings.

There were many Q&A’s no doubt from over-stretched council Climate Officers who have the same challenge of trying to influence across massive organisations. Perhaps it’s time for smaller councils? Then there’s less to influence? Enough said on that point 🙂


So in summary:

1. There’s lots going on almost everywhere you look and every person you speak to. Some inspirational, some tinkering at the edges, but all doing their bit.

2. Some of the changes will need a more radical shift and not just incremental tweaking to the status quo. We need bold actions, and that will require cross-sector commitment and support.

3. We should respect that councils and other public sector bodies are doing a lot of work for their own footprints as well as trying to help us meet our aims.

4. That we need to keep positive. Tell stories and create positive images of the future.

5. That Scottish Communities CAN needs to be recognised for the value that all of its members are collectively achieving, so perhaps a wee slot in next year’s conference.