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Trending: Local, National Governments Get Real About Creating Circular, Low-Carbon Future

Image Credit: Jonathan Riley

Though the private sector has largely been leading the charge against climate change as of late, local and national governments are starting to step up to the plate to further catalyze the shift to a more sustainable economy.

As the UK and EU ramp up efforts to slash plastics pollution, the Scottish government has announced plans to impose a ban on the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton swabs. Once in place, the ban is expected to reduce Scotland’s marine plastic pollution by a staggering 50 percent.

The decision stems from concerns about the number of cotton swabs that make their way into marine ecosystems after being flushed down the toilet. “Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets and this has to stop,” said Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s Environment Secretary. “Scotland’s sewerage infrastructure collects and treats some 945 million liters of wastewater each day. These systems are not designed to remove small plastic items such as plastic buds, which can kill marine animals and birds that swallow them.”

While most retailers and supermarkets have already eliminated plastic brands from their shelves and switched to paper-stemmed alternatives, many smaller stores continue to sell plastic cotton swabs. These stragglers will be the target of the new ban.

According to Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, the ban will set an important precedent on addressing the marine plastic problem. “Cotton buds are a very visible sign of our hugely wasteful habits, turning up on beaches across the globe. Manufacturers and supermarkets are already moving in the right direction, but this single measure will guarantee that Scotland cuts is contribution to marine plastic pollution in half.”

“Following the plastic bag charge and the announcement of a deposit and return scheme for drinks’ bottles and cans, this is another good step on the way to a society which uses resources more sensibly.”


Meanwhile, New York City is gearing up to divest $5 billion from fossil fuels and take legal action against five of the world’s biggest oil companies — BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConcoPhillips and Shell — for their contribution to climate change.

The decision affects the City’s $189 billion pension funds, five of which have around $5 billion in fossil fuel investments. The move was largely driven by the increased occurrence of natural disasters, such as flooding, erosion and hurricanes, that the City has experienced in recent years and the billions of dollars it has spent in repairs and recovery efforts as a result.

“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

The decision has been applauded by environmental NGOs and climate leaders, such as Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief and a key player in the creation of the Paris Agreement, who said: “The exponential transition toward a fossil-fuel-free economy is unstoppable and local governments have a critical role to play. There is no time to lose.”

While Seattle divested all of its directly controlled investments from fossil fuels in 2012 and Washington, D.C. became the first city to fully divest its pension fund in 2016, New York’s decision to divest is significant considering its position as a global financial center. The move sends a powerful message to the rest of the country — and the world — that divestment is not only important, but necessary and doable. Cities and counties in California, Colorado and Massachusetts are also petitioning leaders to take similar action and New York’s pledge could be the nudge they need to finally make it happen.


Finally, as part of the ICLEI World Congress 2018, the City of Montréal and ICLEI, a global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future, are seeking innovative solutions that could help facilitate the transition of cities and neighborhoods towards a circular economy.

The two bodies have issued a call for proposals with the objective of:

  • Tracking material flows and identifying available material sources;
  • Creating a stakeholder collaboration framework necessary for the establishment of a circular economy strategy;
  • Promoting the implementation of actions in a coherent and coordinated manner at the city or neighborhood level;
  • Supporting local governments to capitalize on economic, environmental and social opportunities related to implementing a circular economy;
  • Supporting local governments in measuring their GHG emission reductions associated with their circular economy actions; or
  • Supporting local governments in identifying priority actions to bring about a successful transition to a circular economy.

Proposals could be well-defined ideas requiring additional research or planning, implementation-ready strategies or projects, or initiatives or best practices that have already been implemented and could be replicated elsewhere.

Projects will be judged on feasibility, innovative thinking and originality, potential impact on climate change and other desirable impacts, as well as the quality of the presentation. One top proposal will be selected to receive the Judges’ Choice Award and the finalist that receives the most votes during the public voting period will receive the Popular Choice Award. The Judges’ Choice Award winner will be invited to present their solution at the ICLEI World Congress 2018 to be held on June 19-22, 2018 in Montréal, as well as to meet with Montréal City staff and external stakeholders to further discuss their solution.

The Judges’ Choice Award and Popular Choice Award winners will then have the opportunity to join the MIT Climate CoLab and be eligible for the $10,000 grand prize offered by the CoLab, to be selected from among the winners across all MIT Climate CoLab contests.

Submissions are open now and interested applicants can submit their proposals until the deadline on April 1, 2018 at 8 PM EST. 


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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