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Scotland's journey to net zero

The Scottish Government has set a 2045 target for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases - with a target reduction of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. 'Net zero' means the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we put into the atmosphere, minus the amount we're able to take out, will sum up to zero. Read more about the Scottish Government's ambitions on their Climate Change page.

Destination Net Zero is a key strand of the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Programme and is being delivered on behalf of the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group by Scottish Enterprise, VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, and partners.

As part of the Pathway to Net Zero, VisitScotland commissioned Progressive Partnership to undertake a detailed industry survey to investigate the current attitudes and behaviours of tourism businesses towards a carbon neutral economy.

The research included a mix of telephone interviews, supported online surveys, and in-depth interviews. Fieldwork took place between September and November 2021.

Summary report PDF - Net Zero Industry Survey

Published April 2022

Full report PDF - Net Zero Industry Survey

Published April 2022

Executive Summary

Although it is not a top priority in current times, being sustainable and reducing emissions were rated as highly important by the majority of businesses surveyed. Unsurprisingly, recovering from the pandemic restrictions took precedence for many - however it is likely that sustainability and carbon reduction will come to fore even more over time.

Most tourism businesses expressed concern about climate change and are motivated to take action to minimise the environmental impact of their activities. 

  • Almost all businesses have taken steps to reduce the environmental impact of their activites, and just less than half have a strategy in place or are in the process of creating one.

  • 46% have made someone responsible for improving their environmental performance, although only 3 in 10 have recognised accreditation or awards.

Larger organisations, attractions, and activity providers tended to have made more progress - they were more likely to have a strategy in place and have implemented measures, than smaller organisations and accommodation providers.

Whilst awareness of the Scottish Government's net zero target is strong, most have not yet made a plan on how to achieve this and do not currently measure their emissions.

  • Three quarters of businesses were aware of the Scottish Government's 2045 net zero target.

  • A third of businesses have made an action plan to get emissions down to net zero, with most of those with a plan already starting to implement its actions.

Visitor attractions and activity providers were more likely to have made progress on the journey to net zero than accommodation providers.

The qualitative findings indicate that there is a lack of understanding of what net zero practically means for businesses, and what they need to do to achieve it. Others felt progress to the target would be restricted by reliance on other organisations/businesses and the general interconnectedness of sectors in the tourism industry.

  • One in ten businesses surveyed currently measure their carbon emissions, with this proportion higher for attractions, activity providers, and larger organisations.

The key barriers to implementing environmental impact reduction measures were:

  • the cost
  • a lack of funding or support
  • practical constraints due to location/property
  • the practical limitations of their business activity

It is encouraging, however, that resistance to change, both internally from staff/management and externally from customers, was a barrier to only a small minority. Having the time or capacity to implement changes was also generally not seen as an impediment to becoming more environmental.

There were some variances in barriers between sectors and size of businesses, indicating that targeted support would be effective in overcoming these.

Qualitative responses suggest that even where organisations have made significant progress towards net zero, there is recognition that the 'easier wins' have been achieved and future progress will be more challenging.

The most often cited type of support required to help businesses improve their environmental performance was financial. Although, other types mentioned include:

  • basic information about how to become more sustainable
  • a plain English explanation of how to become net zero
  • information tailored to specific business needs

A number were also looking for a central, easily accessed source of information.

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