A vision of sharing in Scotland

A vision of sharing in Scotland 1
Young Syrian refugees on the island of Samos in Greece, using donated ETL tools transported by Edinburgh Direct Aid.

There’s a lot happened at the Edinburgh Tool Library over the past couple years and thanks to our growing team, I am finally able to take a moment and get my thoughts together.

First and foremost, I am incredibly proud of what ETL has become, and is continuing to be. Three years ago, my spare room was full of tools, and I’d drag a big bag to the police box on Leith Walk once a week.

Today, we have: a staff team of six, two workshops in Leith and Portobello, and three other tool library spaces for tool repair, cataloguing and distribution. We recently completed a week of fourteen workshop classes, we run a volunteer build programme, a Tools for Life mentorship scheme for young people, the ‘Young Tooligans’ schools programme, a Creative Edinburgh nominated mobile bike kitchen and have an amazing team of over 40 volunteers.

These resources mean:

  • There are 750 hours of free workshop access
  • 1000 tools are available to borrow
  • 2100 members, of which 700 are active use ETL
  • We lend out a tool every 5 minutes we are open
  • We have completed 8000 tool loans
  • We have saved our members over £400,000
  • Our members carbon footprint has been reduced by 50t in the last 18 months
  • We provided 30 courses training people in a variety of different woodworking and DIY skills

For me, the mission of the Edinburgh Tool Library isn’t focused just on an environmental or community message. We can’t be pigeon-holed into offering one solution when we believe our offering is holistic and multi-faceted. We work with members of the general public, but we also have partnerships with groups that target particular disadvantaged groups. We work with other charities to address challenges our communities face, but also need to reach our own targets. We are Edinburgh based, but we also help people as far as the Greek refugee camps, and even Tanzania.

In addition to our day-to-day work, we feel strongly in challenging the government and funding bodies to support organisations who tackle many challenges, avoiding a single track approach. We know that tools are universal. Our mission at the Tool Library appeals to diverse groups of people from different backgrounds. That is why we are unique and so, so special.

We want to see a Scotland where sharing is a core value. We want our children and communities to embody the ethos that sharing is caring.

As the circular economy ‘butterfly’ diagram from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows, sharing is the optimal way of reducing environmental impact (on the diagram, the smaller the loop, the smaller the environmental impact). According to recent research (link), we have 12 years to get our act together to minimise catastrophic climate change yet we focus so much of our efforts on the widest loop in the circular economy.

We were pleased to see that the Scottish Government received recognition at the 2017 Davos World Economic Forum for its adoption of circular economy principles, but we want Scotland to keep pushing forward. Why are we so keen to fund recycling projects, when the best thing is not to create that waste in the first place? The focus should be on the tighter loops, of maintenance, sharing and reuse, which are areas led by community organisations, not large recycling firms.

We want to be part of a Scotland that supports smaller organisations to follow best practice to have the largest impact possible, and in that is the key. At the Circular Economy Hotspot conference, Janez Poticnik, Co-Chair of the UN Resource Panel, said that at a global level, there “should be a particular focus on the social aspects of circular economy processes (employment, inclusiveness, local benefits) which are crucial for better acceptance of the circular economy.”

This is exactly what ETL does – we benefit the community we are in, and people see the benefits – they are tangible. This then gives us a platform to talk about the relationship with the circular economy, and sustainable living.

A vision of sharing in Scotland 2
The ‘butterfly diagram’ of the Circular Economy, courtesy of the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Edinburgh Tool Library is already making a difference. We are following the butterfly diagram from inside to out, and are researching ways in which we can refine our model so our tools can stay circulating for as long as possible, and we are continuing to expand our work to make a greater impact.

We have recently received a grant from NESTA and the Scottish government to bring sharing to other areas of Edinburgh, as part of a pilot study aiming to make sharing easier than shopping (pretty ambitious eh?!!!).  This is a collaboration with MyTurn, the US-based folks that administer our database, and that of around 250 other tool libraries across the world, and i-Puk, a German platform developer who have been working with German city councils on monitoring and project management tools to track waste reduction strategies. It’s a truly international collaboration. If we can demonstrate that a distribution network for our tools can work, then we can increase the scope to share more things, in more places. The hope is a platform where resources and services that do not need to be bought, are visible to everyone, and that the impact of this sharing can be recorded and reported with ease.

We want to continue to be at the forefront of the Scotland-wide sharing network so that community resources can benefit more people in a meaningful way across the country. This will not only increase opportunities for people all over Scotland to better themselves and the places in which they live, but save these communities money, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Scotland should be a place of access, not excess.

Tool libraries are a key to this access – access to resources can mean learning a new skill, or building something for your community, or it might be finding the confidence to start a new job after being supported by a local organisation you become involved with. Through the Edinburgh Tool Library we have seen these successes happen in our community.

With our growing organisation and our collaborations with NESTA and the Scottish government, we hope to develop the infrastructure for a national network of sharing organisations, so that people can benefit not just in Edinburgh, but right across Scotland.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an exciting ride!