Roseanna Cunningham MSP

Roseanna Cunningham MSP

Roseanna Cunningham MSP

There’s no doubt that for many women with increasingly busy professional and home lives it can be a real challenge to achieve a work/life balance which works for them and their families. Indeed, there are times in my own life when achieving any work/life balance would be a small miracle! Yet I know that many women will feel that I have no right to complain because I don’t have children.

Well, I confess I’m not sure how I would manage if I did have children and/or a partner, although living alone does also mean that there’s no-one else around to pick up the dry-cleaning or make sure something has been taken out of the fridge and defrosted or any one of the myriad other small things which are shared in a household containing more than one person. Of course, living in a single household doesn’t mean that I don’t have family – I do. Nor does being childless mean that there aren’t other family responsibilities such as looking after elderly parents. So that ‘balance’ thing can be a challenge for us all.
It is also true that certain professions give rise to particular pressures which may make achieving a work/life balance more difficult – and we will all plead our own working lives as examples – but nevertheless I believe that it’s possible for most of us to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of our lifestyles both at home and at work, though no-one can promise it will be easy. It is certainly a big challenge for me in my position as Minister for the Environment. I’ve got to be able to do more than just talk the talk.

Last year, the Government did a big survey of environmental attitudes and behaviours and from that, we know that the majority of Scots see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem and understand the importance of day-to-day behaviours in tackling climate change. Yet many of them do not follow this up with concrete action. There will be a lot of reasons for that. A big part of course is being able to work out what changes people can make in their daily lives which will help. Theorists and strategic thinkers have a tendency to forget that without practical suggestions and practical help most ordinary folk can be left totally confused about what actions will achieve the most and which aspects of their Monday to Friday routines can be changed to greatest effect. Male theorists and male strategists are particularly prone to this!
However, the Scottish Government’s GoGreener campaign is designed to create and publicise ways for people to become greener in their everyday lives by showing people how easy it is to take a range of simple steps that can contribute to cutting climate change emissions and helping to make Scotland more sustainable.

What is clear is that if we are to successfully tackle climate change we all need to take action. Even apparently small steps can help: in absolute terms when the impacts of many small steps are taken together; and in helping to change the culture to one where we routinely make more sustainable choices and where so-called greener behaviours are accepted as the norm rather than the exception.
The campaign revolves around 10 greener steps which we encourage the public to sign up to and which act as a doorway to further information that grows understanding and helps them further reduce their environmental impact. The campaign is very much action-focused as a way of leading to better awareness and attitudinal change.

The steps we’re promoting through the campaign are (mostly) easy actions which most of us can take regardless of how busy we are without radically changing the way we go about our business. That said, the campaign does also challenge the status quo and some of the behaviours we are promoting, such as driving and flying less when you can, do require people to confront some pretty entrenched and, let’s face it, environmentally-damaging behaviours. These are issues which challenge us both in our personal and professional lives but our approach in this campaign is a pragmatic one. We understand that sometimes the need to drive or fly is unavoidable, but there are undoubtedly many opportunities to use alternative means of transport and we are encouraging people to think about the impacts of their actions and to exercise more environmentally-responsible behaviour whenever they can.
The campaign deals with a range of areas including waste and energy with the current phase focusing on issues of travel and transport, and particularly on reducing the number of shorter, often unnecessary, car journeys. Our research shows that one in three passenger car journeys taken in Scotland are under two miles, so there will be many occasions where it should be easy to leave the car at home instead of taking it to the local shops or to visit nearby friends and relatives. Driving by car is the most common option for travel to work and for shopping, with half of respondents to a survey on environmental attitudes and behaviours stating car travel as quicker and more convenient. The same survey also found that about four in ten who live a mile from their workplace still drive there every day.

As a starter, we’re asking people to consider whether they could leave their car at home at least one day a week and to walk, cycle or take public transport instead. By leaving their cars at home for just one day a week and taking a more environmentally-friendly form of transport to their destination, people in Scotland can help to cut down on the country’s contribution to global climate change. For example, if every bus in Scotland took just one more car driver once a week, Scotland’s carbon emissions would be cut by up to 1.2 million tonnes every year. There’s an old Scots saying which is particularly appropriate here: ‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’! Go look it up!
We’re also highlighting the health and wellbeing benefits of walking or cycling for those shorter journeys in terms of reduced stress levels and improved fitness as well as the potential financial benefits of driving less. All of these factors can contribute to a better work/life balance and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet signed up to the campaign to take a look at our website ( and consider what more you can do to reduce your impact on our fragile and precious environment. More than 12,000 people have already signed up to the campaign as of July 2009. I’m really encouraged by the scale of that response, but we want as many people as possible to take part, share their experiences and ideas and work together to help make an even more significant contribution to making Scotland sustainable.

There are various other small steps which you can choose from. These include:

* Recycling household waste using locally-provided facilities
* Turning the tap off when brushing your teeth – I’m lucky because having been brought up in Australia saving water was ingrained in me at a very early age
* Switch to energy saving lightbulbs if you haven’t already done so – it doesn’t have to be done all at once, just as each traditional bulb blows out
* Use rechargeable instead of disposable batteries and if that isn’t possible with everything you have, track down one of the shops that will take waste batteries and get one of their boxes to sit in the kitchen
* Reuse carrier bags when you shop – or better still get hold of one or more of those cotton bags and keep them stuffed in your handbag
* Or, if you are a magazine junkie like me, look out for the ones with free bags included – they’re great to have around the place
* Buy more seasonal and unpackaged food or even think about growing some of your own – I’ve managed to stop buying pre-packaged salad, by growing my own at home so you can do it, even in our climate
* Hang your washing up to dry rather than use a tumble dryer though I’ll grant you it helps if you have indoor drying facilities

This may make me sound like some kind of domestic goddess. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. But I do try to find alternative uses for plastic bottles (you’d be surprised!), I do try to grow at least some of my own, I don’t own a car and I’m trying hard to compost.

I agree that when you live really busy lives, perhaps with a lot of travelling and responsibilities that don’t always sit easily into the 9 to 5, that it isn’t always easy to make changes.
But it is possible and where it is possible, I’m hoping people will try.

If we all do, we will make a difference!

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