By Sara Thiam

MOST of us have spent more time than usual exploring our local area in the last year. We have marvelled at how lucky we are to have such beautiful parks and green spaces on our doorstep, commented on how loud the birdsong was in the absence of rush hour traffic, and seen wild animals roam our deserted high streets.

With COP26 coming to Glasgow later this year, and the appointment of a minister for net zero, our national focus on the importance of protecting our environment and nature has never been clearer.

As we drive towards our goal of being a net zero country by 2045, we are seeing positive steps from all types of businesses. From large utilities companies erecting wind turbines to move their production to green energy, to small coffee shops encouraging customers to bring their own cup in a bid to reduce waste, everybody is trying to play their part.

Scotland is a nation of inventors, so it is no surprise we’re innovating. For example, we are seeing a rise in run-of-river hydro projects across the country, which encourage landowners and communities to generate renewable electricity from their streams and small rivers. With no need for dams or large pieces of equipment, these systems use the natural flow of water to turn the head of a small turbine, generating power to supply the local community.

Investing in nature can also generate income; the Macallan distillery in Moray has fully embraced Scotland’s heritage, building its distillery and visitors experience with a grand undulating green roof mimicking the surrounding hills in the heart of Speyside. Scotland’s provenance and heritage create brand value for businesses, which we see in our two largest food and drinks exports, salmon and whisky. Without the crystal-clear waters of our rivers and lochs, these products would not be the world class standard that they are. Looking after our natural landscape is vital in maintaining our Scottish badge of quality.

A growing number of people are paying more attention to the provenance of their food, and while the margins may be higher in some cases to grow organic produce, this increase in awareness has allowed local businesses such as butchers and greengrocers to flourish. We saw this supported even more in our drive to shop locally during the lockdown.

When it comes to attracting talent, the next generation of workforce is going to be more aware of our environment and nature than ever. Businesses which demonstrate a clear social conscience will likely appeal to the most talented candidates in the future. This year’s RSPB Nature of Scotland Awards will be recognising and celebrating the businesses which demonstrate the initiatives, partnerships and sustainable practices which benefit nature in Scotland.

The pandemic has shown us what can be achieved when the public, private and third sector all unite around a common goal. Our year at home has shown us what can happen if nature is given the chance – let’s not undo our good work, and commit to protecting Scotland’s heritage and beauty.

Sara Thiam is judge of the RSPB Scotland Nature of Scotland Awards and Chief Executive of SCDI