A NEW report, Tapping into a Wellbeing Economy, explores what Scotland’s craft breweries can teach us about the importance of local production for building an economy where people and planet can thrive.

Momentum is growing to reprogramme our economy so that it delivers social justice on a healthy planet. A wellbeing economy would be designed to meet our universal needs for dignity, connection, nature, fairness and meaningful participation.

Instead of equating success with economic growth, it would put our collective wellbeing at its heart. A recent survey showed that almost two-thirds of people in Scotland believe the pandemic has shown the need to move to such an economy.

In November, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes pledged to use the 10-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation to set out how Scotland will work towards becoming a wellbeing economy. This commitment came as MPs at Westminster debated the benefits of such an approach and the European Commission recognised the need to make the shift.

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Reprogramming our economy will require attention to questions of power, ownership and business models. Innovative firms who are committed to doing things differently will have a huge role to play.

Businesses can provide meaningful jobs that pay workers enough to live with dignity and actively participate in society and they can contribute to the development of thriving communities. Local producers are likely to play a particularly important role.

When goods and services are produced near where people live, it creates bonds between businesses, communities and the land, while bringing environmental benefits due to shorter travel distances. Local production rescales the economy to a human level and enables locally rooted economies to thrive. It encourages us to rediscover the purpose and value of the community.

A transformative example of local production can be found in Scotland’s rapidly expanding craft brewing sector. The research by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) research revealed craft brewers tend to run their businesses in ways that align with wellbeing economy principles. Other industries can take inspiration from the way craft brewers contribute to the development of local economies, collaborate with other businesses and put human connection and mutual support at the core of their work.

Craft brewers typically employ people who live locally, and they often hire flexibly, creating or adapting roles to accommodate the individual needs of people in their communities. Their strong sense of place and connection to their location tends to be part of their brand identity, product range and business strategy. For example, craft beers might feature local ingredients, or play on aspects of local heritage.

Craft brewers commonly collaborate with each other in everything from production to marketing and distribution. For example, the tradition of “co-lab” brews sees brewers share skills, knowledge, and recipes to create a shared product. New firms often use or borrow their peers’ supplies and equipment and it is common for brewers to discuss the details of their recipes with each other. This collaborative mindset goes against the dominant business model that celebrates fierce competition.

A KEY feature of a wellbeing economy is moving away from the idea of continual growth as the primary yardstick for success.

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Our society’s “more is more” mindset seems particularly in evidence when we think about the goals of enterprise. Craft breweries are part of a growing body of companies who are redefining what it means to succeed. Building a sustainable, independent and resilient business is often seen as a prize in itself.

Milngavie-based Jaw Brew is just one example of a brewery doing business differently. The family-run firm aims to become a world-leading circular economy micro-brewery. It sees to use as few raw materials as possible and extract the maximum value from them to minimise waste.

For its award-winning “Hardtack beer”, Jaw Brew partnered with a local bakery to use unsold morning rolls to partly replace the malted barley they would otherwise use. The team is also exploring making snack bars using spent grain, experimenting with compostable packaging made from waste products like cardboard or prawn shells and scoping the feasibility of capturing the CO2 emitted during the fermentation process and reusing it to carbonate their beer. Jaw Brew is committed to sharing these practices with other brewers to increase their impact.

The firm has no interest in growing the business for its own sake. Expansion for Jaw Brew could instead mean bottling its own beer, which would limit its transport footprint and create local jobs. Businesses such as Jaw Brew prove that successful enterprises can put people and planet ahead of profit and positively contribute to the development of resilient communities.

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Across Scotland, local producers are adopting new ways of doing things to prioritise our collective wellbeing. In the consultation on its forthcoming Local Food Strategy, the Scottish Government acknowledges the considerable benefits of local production. But the measures proposed fall well short of what is needed to realise the potential of local production.

If the Scottish Government is serious about setting us on a path to a wellbeing economy, it needs to make large-scale support for these types of businesses a key plank of its Local Food Strategy and the wider National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

Anna Chrysopoulou is a policy and research associate at Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland