Raw materials critical to the Scottish economy

January 2011

Objectives of the project

The purpose of this project is to capitalise and build on the research of a Defra-led, UK-level project to look at the future risks to, and viability of, essential raw material resources, and to make the research relevant to Scotland. The key objectives are:


Scotland’s economy relies on raw materials to function; however, very little is known about which materials are critical to Scotland’s economy and development. While very little is known about the security of supply of essential raw materials, Scotland meantime produces 20m tonnes of controlled waste annually, 36% of which goes to landfill.

The project builds on a Defra project which published the report “Review of the Future Resource Risks to Business and an Assessment of Future Viability” in December 2010. This project will publish an independent Scottish report drawing on the Defra findings at the UK level. This research aims to identify the raw materials critical to Scotland and opportunities for Scottish industry. This will provide the intelligence necessary to move Scotland towards a truly circular economy. The results will deliver outcomes important to the Scottish Government’s strategy for sustainable economic growth and to its Low Carbon Economic Strategy. The outcomes will also be useful to various organisations and industry operating in Scotland (e.g. Zero Waste Scotland).

Key Findings and Recommendations

Resource risks arise through limited supplies and restricted availability coupled with an increased demand for their use. The recent economic downturn will, in the short term, reduce the demand and supply of a number of resources (e.g. aggregates). In the medium and long term, however, the trend is one of increasing demand for natural resources as growth of the global population and economic development continues.

Increasing scarcity of twelve resources has been identified as posing the most significant risk to Scottish industry:

  • Aggregates
  • Indium
  • Phosphorus
  • Cobalt
  • Lead
  • Rare-earth elements
  • Copper
  • Lithium
  • Timber
  • Fish
  • Palm oil
  • Tin

The research highlights key considerations for industry:

The study found little evidence that Scottish industry is planning for a resource-constrained future.

Key issues:

It is against this background that government and industry need to plan for the future and consider how to secure supplies, reduce use of or reliance on particular resources, or look at potential alternatives.

Next Steps

This report provides a critical first step for Scotland to understand the scope and likely impacts of this issue. It is hoped that it will be a catalyst for government and industry to start (1) preparing for the constraints that increased scarcity will likely impose and (2) developing a strategy to help industry position itself so that it can benefit from the opportunities that these constraints may create.

Copies of this report are available from the Foundation, in electronic format on CDRom at £20.00 + VAT or hard copy at £50.00, less 20% to FWR members.

N.B. The report is available for download from the SNIFFER Website