How do we build green skills for a Net Zero Wales?
Last week, a few members of the Cynnal Cymru team attended Green Skills for a Net Zero Wales led by Business in the Community. In this breakfast briefing about the Green Skills agenda in Wales, likeminded organisations met to discuss green skills, with an address from the Minister of Economy in Wales, Vaughan Gething. Cynnal Cymru facilitated round tables with senior leaders in business of all sizes across Wales to exchange ideas on how everyone in Wales can grow a skilled workforce that meets Wales’ net zero commitments.
What are Wales’ Net Zero Commitments?
As part of the All Wales Plan 2021-25, organisations across every sector have pledged to make changes towards a net zero economy. In order to achieve a net zero economy, Wales as a whole needs to reduce our total emissions in 2030 by at least 90% relative to the baseline year, 2019-20.
How can we do this?
A key message in the event was championing the notion that green skills are not just about technical skills or the creation of new jobs. At Cynnal Cymru, we believe in a well-rounded approach to sustainable change, which is why we have a Fair Work team leading Living Wage Wales and a just transition to sustainable changes.
Since joining Cynnal Cymru, I have attended and led events such as a Net Zero Skills round table for the Open University, a steering group for the IEMA green careers hub, and a Mainstreaming Equality for a Just Transition evidence panel. Through these conversations and research, I have come to realise that if we define green skills narrowly – only as technical jobs in energy and transport, for example – we will alienate people and will not reach our Net Zero transition goals. The UK economy, like many others, relies on sectors such as hospitality, retail, healthcare, construction, creative arts and more, which also need to be a part of this transition. Our focus must be on supporting existing sectors to upskill and re-skill their existing workforces so that huge communities don’t miss out on being part of a Net Zero economy.
If we define green skills so narrowly – only as technical jobs in energy and transport, for example – we will alienate people and will not reach our Net Zero transition goals.
So why aren’t we doing this?
I noticed that organisations:
Don’t have the time to think about green skills
Don’t know where to start with these conversations or changes
Don’t know how green skills apply to them
I think this can be linked back to the understanding that every job can be green. The Welsh Government is currently taking consultations on how to achieve net zero skills across sector. Cynnal Cymru is a member of the SME Taskforce for Climate, alongside other small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As part of my work on this taskforce, I am educating workplaces across sectors on the ways they can understand their own skillset in relation to net zero.
Karolina joined Cynnal Cymru in 2021 as our Sustainability Advisor to provide consultancy support to the public and private sectors on how to become more sustainable in their operations. She represents Cynnal Cymru on the SME Taskforce for the Climate.
Central to the project was identifying businesses in Wales that have already successfully implemented circular economy principles and harnessing their experience and expertise to share with others. The project outputs include a report that outlines 21 case studies of Welsh businesses that have successfully implemented circular economy principles, and a series of inspirational video clips. Their aim is to provide ‘how to’ examples for practitioners to better understand circular economy principles and their implementation.
The project also looked at available resources for learning about the circular economy, which have been mapped out on a capability development matrix. Ranging from Level 1 content, which provides short videos and briefing notes that develop CE understanding, up to Level 7, which features intensive programmes to enable practitioners to implement CE principles within their organisation, the aim is to help organisations find relevant resources to develop appropriate knowledge and skills for individuals and groups.
Our own circular economy journey
Our Sustainability Advisor Dr Karolina Rucinska also took part in a training programme, organised by Cardiff Metropolitan University, that led to a formation of the Cardiff Circular Economy Network (CCEN)). As a result, Karolina has started introducing the concept of a circular economy to our members and clients and has mapped out how we at Cynnal Cymru can become circular too. Click here to listen to Karolina describing the value of the network, and if you think membership might be for you, get in touch via Twitter or the CCEN website.
“I’m really excited about the future if we tackle these crises in a positive way. We’ve lost so much biodiversity in Britain. And in my lifetime, if we could see that natural spectacle come back, what a wonderful future we could create.” (Dan)
“There’s a trillion planets but as far as we know, we are on the only one that can sustain life! It just proves how precise the conditions need to be for life. And you know, climate change, it’s not about the planet: it’s about life, here.” (Carys)
“As a kid, I enjoyed playing in nature. It’s so important for confidence, learning about yourself. And that’s only going to be possible for kids in the future if they don’t have to worry about how resilient the environment is.” (Gethyn, Ecologist)
“I was born in rural France and I can see all this change. If we don’t make a difference now, then the world we live in will be so different, so dangerous for the future generation. Think about that! We have to sort it out.”
“We’re helping to decarbonise Wales one business at a time so they can have a good carbon footprint and a solid carbon reduction plan because it just makes perfect sense.” (Dave, Auditel)
“I think the vegan movement and a more plant based lifestyle is a way that is going to help propel us into a more conscious future.” (Carly)
“It’s my duty of care as a teacher to have an interest in sustainability and make sure it has a direct impact in education and on future generations.” (Mary)
“I’m involved primarily for my and others’ future generations. But also because it’s the sensible way to live” (Ceri)
“I’m of the insect-splattered windscreen generation. My children have no concept of it; it’s declined by 80% in my lifetime. It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Halting and reversing the moving baseline is what inspires me.” (Ben, Woop Woop Magazine)
“The time is now to think and work collectively to envision a brighter and environmentally just world. Join the conversation to realise a better planet and collective future. We need to move beyond doom and imagine what is possible.” (Louise)
“SMEs account for over half of the UKs economy and I feel a sense of honour and privilege in playing a part in a more sustainable commercial future.” (Louis, Web Marketer UK)
“My belief that we have a moral obligation to leave the world a better place was strengthened when I travelled & experienced the impact of climate change first hand. Now I use my unique skillset to try to reverse the damage that’s been done” (Ant, Motion Manor)
“When you have a home planet that has everything in it to help you live a good life, it makes sense to look after it. It’s self care – for us as a species who have the good fortune to exist in this bountiful ecosystem.” (Sylvia, Cynnal Cymru)
The experience was organised by WWF Cymru, RSPB Cymru and National Trust Cymru together with experts from the Open University that brought to life the Save Our Wild Isles campaign and television series, demanding an immediate halt to the destruction of nature here in the UK and urgent action for its recovery.
The event outlined the challenges facing us and how everyone has a part to play in supporting this recovery – something Sylvia and Jason know first-hand from their experience teaching Cynnal Cymru’s Nature Wise | Nabod Natur course. It brought together nature ambassadors advocating on behalf of our precious grasslands, freshwater areas, woodlands and oceans in a combination of film screenings, panel discussions and interpretation boards, all accompanied by a delicious sustainable vegan meal provided by local caterers Wild Thing Cardiff.
This fantastic opportunity to network and share experiences with others working in the sustainability sector did, however, make clear just how much work still needs to be done. The statistics are deeply worrying: 30 million birds have vanished from our skies over the last 50 years and as many as 1 in 6 species is at risk of extinction here in Wales. And this is something humanity has caused: in the words of Sir David Attenborough, “this starts and ends with us”.
But all is not lost – part of the event was to promote the People’s Plan for Nature created by thousands of people across the UK in an inclusive participatory process calling for “urgent, immediate action from everyone to protect and restore nature for future generations”. The Plan is an ambitious vision which aims to bring the nature crisis and nature conservation to the forefront of decision making while maintaining the delicate balance between human and non-human needs. Add your voice now to the People’s Plan for Nature and make it too big to ignore any longer.
The project, funded by the Wales Innovation Network, identified businesses in Wales that have successfully implemented circular economy principles and content that can help businesses and public services develop their CE knowledge and skills.
The Circular Economy concept requires a new way of thinking, away from the traditional linear economy thinking, where products are bought, used, and thrown away. Put simply, the circular economy is a system in which resources such as materials and equipment are used, reused, and repurposed as effectively as possible, for as long as possible.
Partners have researched and written a report that outlines 21 case studies of Welsh businesses that have successfully implemented circular economy principles, including inspirational video clips, such as Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire or Celsa Steel UK in Cardiff.
Marten Lewis Head of Corporate Responsibility at Bluestone National Park Resort states “The circular economy programmes we have embedded in our operations have been very impactful, supporting need in the local community, creating positive engagement with staff, reducing our waste streams, and providing evidence of our lived brand values”.
Adele Williams founder of Green Wave Hair Workshop gathers hair donations and sews them into an absorbent mat which can be used to soak up oil spills in the ocean and on land commented on how circular economy practices have helped her business:
“Implementing circular economy practices within my business has attracted many more customers and helped to create goals, inspire, and create a sense of fulfilment for myself and Green Wave’s customers.”
Suzanne Wardell, CEO of Circular Economy Mid Wales, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to save waste from landfill explains
“Implementing circular economy principles is at the heart of what Circular Economy Mid Wales not only does, but it is what and who we are! Every aspect of our business is driven by recycle, reuse, repair – from the core business of reducing landfill to our partnerships with other social enterprises. Our aim is to turn a linear economy into a more circular one.”
The case studies provide ‘how to’ examples for practitioners to better understand circular economy principles and their implementation. The case studies also aim to encourage public service organisations and businesses to begin implementation of CE principles. The report disseminates some of the magnificent work ongoing in Wales and supports organisations to reduce their carbon footprint whilst moving to a CE business model.
A capability development matrix provides a ‘road map’ which organises available resources into levels to enable organisations to develop appropriate knowledge and skills of individuals and groups. The level 1 content provides short videos and briefing notes that develop CE understanding, whereas level 7 content features intensive programmes that develop the knowledge and skills of practitioners to implement CE principles within their organisations.
A successful hybrid conference allowed partners from across Wales to participate, soft-launched the resources and findings in October 2022.
The WIN project follows the successful Cardiff Circular Economy Network Project, a pilot project working with businesses and schools in the Cardiff Council boundary which facilitated a series of workshops for practitioners and educators to come together, network and to develop a fuller understanding of circular economy principles.
Project Director Dr Gary Walpole commented on the importance of the research:
“The funding from WIN allowed us to develop a report and resources that will enable practitioners to fully understand the principles of the circular economy and embed them within their organisations. Implementing CE principles will enable clean growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).”
Nick Clifton, Professor of Economic Geography and Regional Development at Cardiff Metropolitan University explained:
“We need to transform our innovation ecosystems to deliver truly sustainable societal outcomes that go beyond narrowly defined measures of growth and development. Projects like WIN which brings together private, public and third sector actors to implement real-world solutions and share best practice, are vital to achieving this goal.”
The natural world operates on a closed-loop system where nothing goes to waste. Everything that dies or is extracted eventually returns to the soil or transforms into something else, processed and used by other symbiotic organisms. This is in stark contrast to the linear system of the human world, where high volumes of organic and inorganic materials are produced with no efficient process to eliminate waste and pollution. The planet and its inhabitants struggle to cope with the sheer volume of waste generated. To tackle this global problem, we must shift to a symbiotic, circular, and closed-loop mindset.
What is circularity
Luckily, there are dedicated non-profit organisations, companies, and public institutes that have worked tirelessly to embed this concept into all our lives. Therefore today, we speak of a “circular economy”.
According to one of the leading voices on this topic, the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the circular economy is:
“A systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.
It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. Transitioning to a circular economy entails decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. This represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.”
Rather than simply improving recycling, a circular economy connects the post-product lifecycle with pre-production, which is largely disconnected.
The great disconnect
As you read these words, memories may flood back to when waste was not part of your household vernacular. You might even recall times when every part of the animal was utilised, clothing was shared, and purchases were limited to necessity. Even now, it is commonplace for factories to sell their waste to other industries, which then repurposed it as raw materials.
The notion that households and factories in the past generated little waste due to financial constraints is valid. Historian William Cronon notes that early 20th century Chicago, the world’s meat production capital, had an overwhelming amount of animal by-products such as skin, fat, and hair. This forced the supply chain to repurpose them, leading to economic diversification and specialisation. However, that does not mean there were no issues just because a producer found another use for waste—quite the contrary. Mass meat processing in the early 20th century, although it seemed futuristic (the pig de-assembly line influenced Henry Ford to create an assembly line for his cars), it created a lock-in for farmers who had nowhere else to sell to, workers who were tied to the factory line, and the consumer who lost small-farm butchers. The animals, bred en masse and killed en masse, and the environment, which suffered from polluted rivers and overgrazed plains, were also locked in the system of not their creation.
The tipping point”, Sarah Hill writes, “came over several decades towards the end of the nineteenth century, when consumption got severed from production and when manufacturers no longer relied on the by-products of consumption to make new things. By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, mechanised extraction of natural resources rendered such creative practices obsolete in the United States and England. And the steady outpouring of new goods, fashioned from new materials, made it more and more pointless to hold onto anything for long, not only when things broke, but also when things became ‘outdated’. (Hill, 2016:178) . On top of all this, so much of what was produced was made from materials that cannot be reused and will not decompose, choking the earth.
Changing natures of circular economy
Since the 1960s, environmental movements have advocated for a circular economy as a response to the mass production and disposal of goods. Ekins et al. (2019) define the circular economy as having two components: the flow of materials through an economy and the necessary economic conditions to support that flow. Although terms like sustainable management and industrial ecology gained popularity during this time, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Stahel proposed a spiral-loop system that allowed for economic growth and progress while minimizing environmental harm. In Pearce et al.’s “Blueprint for a Green Economy” in the 1990s, the term “circular economy” was coined, and movements like biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle have since furthered the concept. However, Boulding’s 1960 essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” first called for the stewardship of future generations by criticizing the linear take-make-use-dispose system.
The dispersed origins of a circular economy are important because, as often happens, the past re-emerges while new ideas try to establish themselves. Blomsma and Brennan for instance, talked of a circular economy in terms of framing a narrative around handling waste and resources in the early days and from the 1980s onward, the discussions were framed around waste as a source of value. But in the 2020s, there is a much wider and broader framing, which we see in the definition by the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s famous butterfly diagram:
The circular economy is gaining traction in policy and private sectors, leading to diverse interpretations and evaluations. However, it is important to note that it is not solely about improving recycling but rather about reimagining production, usage, and regenerative potential for the environment and society. Adopting design and system thinking, as well as user-centric and environment-centric designs, can assist those embarking on this journey. This may mean asking new questions about things we buy or produce. For instance, as a customer, consider a T-shirt you purchased years ago that no longer fits. Did the company provide a way to return it for repurposing, or did you donate it or throw it away? Were you informed about the sourcing and manufacturing of the material, as well as the conditions under which it was produced and shipped? In a circular economy, this T-shirt would never end up in a landfill. Instead, the entire supply chain, from cotton fields to customers, would be part of a larger symbiotic system where waste is eliminated, nature is thriving, and so are workers and communities.
However, the most captivating aspect of circular thinking is symbiosis, which emphasizes cooperation and unlikely partnerships rather than an input-and-output model. This approach involves completely rethinking how we interact with products and services, from refilling stations to utilising technology to treat wastewater and reusing organic waste without causing pollution.
Although the concept and the application may still evolve, progress towards its realisation has already begun and shows no signs of slowing down. We recommend exploring the case studies featured on the Circular Economy Innovation Communities (CEIC) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation websites to gain the latest insights and practical knowledge on applying circular economy principles.
Talk to us
This whistle-stop tour of a circular economy is not detailed enough to capture every nuance and development. To help us grow the Welsh circular muscle, please tell us what you want to know about the circular economy – or better still, what you have learnt, experimented with or successfully implemented. But please also tell us what a circular economy means to you.
Cronon, W. (2009) Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. WW Norton & Company, 2009.
Ekins, P., Domenech, T., Drummond, P., Bleischwitz, R., Hughes, N. and Lotti, L. (2019), “The Circular Economy: What, Why, How and Where”, Background paper for an OECD/EC Workshop on 5 July 2019 within the workshop series “Managing environmental and energy transitions for regions and cities”, Paris
Last month the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James attended the latest Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada. A statement was released by the Minister in support of the “30×30” targets. The Minister stated: “For Wales, one of the world’s most nature-depleted nations a “drastic acceleration of action” will be needed to reach these targets by 2030.” She also declared her ambition for “Wales to be a global leader of change ensuring good environmental status for 30% of our ecosystems by 2030.”
“Biodiversity is interconnected, intertwined, and indivisible with human life on Earth. Our societies and our economies depend on healthy and functioning ecosystems. There is no sustainable development without biodiversity. There can be no stable climate without biodiversity.” (UNDP)
We all have a role to play and if you are keen to learn more about what you or your organisation can do to help tackle the nature emergency we invite you to attend our online ecoliteracy course, Nabod Natur – Nature Wise. This course will teach you about how the natural environment works, the threats it faces, and how we can all help nature thrive.
Probably like a lot of people, I sometimes wonder what I, as just one person, can really do to effect the change we need in the world. The news can be depressing – even overwhelming. It’s easy to fall into a fatalistic mood and think that nothing we do will really change anything.
Becoming Carbon Literate has given me a more optimistic view of things. At work, I’m surrounded by people who care about the challenges of climate change – and are doing something positive about it. I work closely with the Carbon Literacy Cartrefi Cymru (CLCC) consortium, a group of Welsh registered social landlords who came together to improve Carbon Literacy within their organisations by pooling their knowledge and resources. Cynnal Cymru worked with the Carbon Literacy Project to create a certified course tailored to the housing sector, and volunteers from each member organisation learned how to deliver it and then began rolling it out to their colleagues, providing the peer-to-peer training that is a key tenet of Carbon Literacy. I facilitate regular Community of Practice meetings for the consortium to provide a platform for support and networking, and the enthusiasm and hard work of the trainers are inspiring – and have so far resulted in more than 400 people becoming certified as Carbon Literate. With the consortium due to continue into 2023 and beyond, that number will continue to grow. As part of my own Carbon Literacy group pledge I’ve also been working with the Cynnal Cymru team to create content for our newsletter and social media, providing advice and tips on how everyone can reduce their daily carbon footprint.
Outside the office, I’ve been doing my best to reduce my own carbon footprint – and the training has given me the knowledge I need to make meaningful changes. It taught me that some of my preconceptions were wrong, and that something as simple as buying a new pair of jeans can have a huge carbon footprint. I’ve now restricted myself to only buying essential items of clothing, buying second hand if possible, and if not then choosing companies that have good sustainability policies. We’ve also just made the switch to a full electric car – it’s a bit of a step into the unknown, but should significantly lower our household’s carbon footprint. My individual Carbon Literacy pledge was to not take another commercial flight, but I’ve also become much more aware of the importance of the things I do every day. Taking a shower, making a cup of tea, even sending an email – everything we do has a carbon footprint, and thanks to the training, I understand much better now how to make changes to the little things that will have a much larger cumulative effect. The Carbon Literacy training bridges the gap between enthusiasm and knowledge, providing the keystone that informs what we do and the impact we can have. The choices I make now are far more informed, and I am confident that they are making a difference.
It was five years ago that I first met Dave Coleman, co-founder and director of the Carbon Literacy Project. He had come to Wales at the invitation of the then Director of the Size of Wales Project. They had met at the historic Paris COP summit where The Project was awarded TAP100 status. Dave presented the Carbon Literacy Project on a sunny morning to a small group of us in Cardiff. At that time, in 2016, the CL Project was only operating in Manchester and Scotland and Dave was looking for partners in other parts of the UK. I listened carefully, asked questions and then reported excitedly to my colleagues in Cynnal Cymru that I had found something that we simply had to get involved with.
We delivered our first Carbon Literacy course in 2017 and five years, 700+ trainees 200+ organisations and 1476 pledges later, I had the great pleasure to attend the tenth birthday party of the Carbon Literacy Project on Tuesday the 1st of November 2022 in Manchester.
In the early days after first meeting Dave, we worked together to introduce Carbon Literacy in Wales. Progress was slow at first but the recent exponential growth of the project in Wales is mirrored across the world. Globally the project is now on 43.5 thousand trainees and just under four thousand organisations engaged. Dave and colleagues have extrapolated the rate of growth and think a target of 1 million people trained could be reached by 2030 or earlier. Each month, the calculations push that target closer to 2022, month by month, as the enquiries, bookings and certifications continue to pour in.
I am very pleased to be able to say that I was the first certified Carbon Literacy trainer in Wales and that Cynnal Cymru was the first organisation in Wales to champion the project. We worked hard to establish it and prove its worth but hey look – this isn’t about me or us. Carbon Literacy is about everyone. We are delighted that more people are offering the training in Wales and as we say to all our clients, our role is to start you off. Ultimately Carbon Literacy works best when the trainee is being trained by someone like them…. When the conversations around climate change are embedded in the context of the participants and when actions are agreed in a collaborative atmosphere by peers challenging each other and holding each other to account. And everyone needs to get better at following up on the actions pledged and calculating/estimating the carbon savings that result.
Being in Manchester for the tenth birthday celebration felt like being part of a family. But every one of us there knew that while we could pause to savour the success, our pleasure could only be short lived. There is still an enormous mountain to climb. Global warming looms over us like a huge wave of destruction threatening everything we love and take for granted. There are powerful forces of ignorance and greed that push against the growing surge of citizen action and enlightened corporate commitment. People are asking us what we should be looking for from COP in Egypt. Our message is clear. Look for nothing. Look only to your own spheres of control and influence. Take care of your world. You are one of a growing number. Tipping points can be positive as well as negative and no-one knows which small action will start the avalanche or spark the revolution. The world does change for better as well as for worse. For one short evening in Manchester we smiled and enjoyed our achievements but the following day it was back to work. Indeed, some important colleagues missed the celebration because they were delivering evening Carbon Literacy training! This does not stop. It can not stop. Cynnal Cymru is ready to help you start your Carbon Literacy journey. We are waiting to hear from you.
At Cynnal Cymru, we turn sustainability aims into action and accelerate positive impacts towards a low carbon economy, a thriving natural environment and a fair and just society through the provision of advice, training and connections.
Earlier this year, we worked with the Future Generation’s Commissioners Office to identify how the Well-being Act was understood and being used as a sustainable development framework for some large private sector organisations in South Wales. Hafren Dyfrydwy, a provider of water and wastewater treatment services in North East and Mid Wales, invited us to discuss their ongoing contribution to the Well-being Goals at their Board Strategy Day. Keen to work with leading organisations in Wales, we jumped at the chance.
On 4 October, Karolina and Sarah travelled to Hafren Dyfrdwy to participate in a dedicated workshop built around Hafren Dyfrdwy’s ongoing contribution to the Act; its relevance to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Company’s PR24 planning. The Board also discussed approaches taken by other large companies in Wales to align their approaches to the Act.
The session was informative, as well as interactive and energetic. For example, we used the Future Generations Prompts as an catalyst to spark the Board’s strategic thinking and group brainstorming activities to map out future strategic activity and progress against each goal.
The workshop highlighted the excellent programme of activity that Hafren Dyfrdwy already does to contribute towards the Well-being Goals and prompted discussion around further opportunities to support their ongoing positive social and environmental impact.
“Massive thank you to Sarah and Karolina for running a fantastic, creative and energetic session on the Well-being of Future Generations Act at our recent Board Strategy Day. It gave us real food for thought in terms of how we better bring to life our existing activities that supports the Act’s goals, and helped us think more broadly about areas where we can go further. Thank you again.”
(Tom Perry, Strategy Manager)
Dr Karolina Rucinska is our Sustainability advisor who often uses facilitation, research and workshopping methods in work with our clients. Sarah Hopkins is the director of Cynnal Cymru, with an expertise in fair work and sustainability in global supply chains and a firm understanding of the public and private sectors.
If you are interested in finding out more about our work, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how we can help.