How to Live Sustainably on the Isle of Arran in 2019

By Simon Ross-Gill

Simon Ross-Gill is a graphic designer who grew up on Arran and spent seven years living in Peru. He has worked for Woodside Arran, helped COAST set up the Octopus Centre, volunteered at Eco Savvy’s Whiting Bay shop, has been on the Think About Plastic steering committee and has volunteered at a community garden in Cladach since moving back to Arran in 2016. He has recently designed the Arran Green Map to showcase all the great things happening on the island.

How can we live sustainably on the Isle of Arran, a sparsely populated island with an abundance of wind and rain and natural resources? An island with trees and minerals and sandstone and granite and swaths of arable land and forests and fresh air and fresh running water. How can we, a community of multi-talented individuals living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, transform Arran into a model sustainable and self-sufficient community for the rest of Scotland and the world to follow?

You already know the answer. So here are a few ideas off the top of my head, more as a rallying cry to myself than anybody else. To be clear: I personally believe that sustainability goes hand in hand with self-sufficiency, as if we can control our own resources then we will no longer rely on opaque supply chains of single use plastic, fossil fuels or exploited labour in the developing world. Please do feel free to disagree with me. This is an opinion piece after all. If you’ve got a better idea, then I am all for it, chief, you get on out there and do it yourself and don’t let anyone stop you. I do not have enough lifetimes to do all of these things. I am just a graphic designer who likes drawing maps.

Grow your own food. If you don’t have a garden, find one. Arran has over 100,000 acres there must at least one for you. While you are busy lobbying land owners, get an allotment at the Arran Community Land Initiative. Or start a new community land initiative or community garden. Start your own market garden, orchard, small farm or food forest and grow food for everybody.

While we are all working towards being self-sufficient in food production, buy “organic” fruit and veg (which just means it’s grown without using toxic chemicals). Buy from local village shops or local growers so that the money stays in the local economy. Spend more of your disposable income on food in solidarity with the world’s poorest people, because “cheap food is an illusion”. Eat all of the food you buy and compost any leftovers. Support local businesses, restaurants and Fish Bars in Corrie who take care to source ingredients as locally and sustainably as possible. Buy real bread from Blackwaterfoot, or learn to bake your own bread. Cook your own meals from scratch. Learn to bake cakes and biscuits and other amazing desserts from scratch. Learn to make your own jam or marmalade or other preserves from wild Arran brambles or from the apple tree in your back garden. Grow food for your neighbours. Host a potluck.

Plant different species of trees and plants and wildflowers everywhere. Go around throwing seed bombs everywhere. Go angling or learn how to dive for scallops or set up lobster creels (but not in the Lamlash Bay No Take Zone!). Go vegan and start growing grains and pulses so that we can have a truly sustainable local vegan Arran diet all year round. Construct a polytunnel or a biodome and learn how to grow peaches or citrus fruits or pineapples or some amazing plant that none of us even conceived possible to grow on Arran. Learn how to grow avocados on Arran and I will be a regular customer.

Only use energy sourced on the island, and that includes your own self propulsion. Walk everywhere you can. Arran is full of brilliant footpaths and the villages are all about an hour’s walk from one other. Is it raining? Get a second hand raincoat from ArCaS or a new one from Arran Active. Or wait until it stops raining. Cycle everywhere you can. Ask Eco Savvy about their ebikes or hire one from Arran Bike Hire or buy one or learn how to build one from scratch. Get the bus. Go kayaking or rowing or sailing and start an inter village sailing ferry service. Start a sailboat ferry service to the mainland. Install solar panels on your house. Build a windmill up the back to power your electric car. Build a new house that is energy efficient and built with local timber and sandstone. Renovate an old house to be energy efficient and live in it. Become an expert in bioconstruction and teach us all how to build houses from trees. Build a yurt and live in it.

Buy things that are not wrapped in plastic, like loose veg from Woodside Arran or Bay Stores or Eco Savvy’s range of cosmetics and kitchenware and Arran Bee Products. Keep an eye on Arran for Sale and Wants or Arran for Free to make use of recycled items or go down to ArCaS or Eco Savvy or No1 Auchrannie road or swap things with your neighbours. Only buy things you need. Start a bamboo farm and make bamboo clothing. Find other plant based alternatives to make biodegradable plastic. Learn to knit and spin and weave and produce your own clothing free from microplastics. Start breeding alpacas, start an alpaca ranch and make clothes from alpaca fibre. I’ll stop short of suggesting we should be growing hemp everywhere instead of bracken and that we should be making biodegradable plastic out of hemp.

Volunteer. Be of service to the community. Re-launch your career and start a new sustainable business. Start a social enterprise. Get a grant to do it or find a way to do it. Start practicing a hobby or craft with local materials or recycled materials or up-cycled materials and build something useful or craft a gift for a loved one. Learn how to build computers and smartphones out of timber like I am Eco to start your new business. Invite newcomers to the island to do the same. Start a tapas bar with 100% sourced Arran produce and I will be a regular customer.

Look after yourself. Look after your mental health, practice mindfulness or meditation or yoga or go play football or go for a walk. Go for a run or do martial arts or go rowing or stand up paddle boarding or learn how to knit or to paint or read books or try the things in paragraphs 3 to 8 or find whatever works for you. Go for a retreat on Holy Isle. Ask for help if you need it and go to talk to a councillor. Look after your neighbours and have compassion for everybody, even if you don’t agree with their post on the Arran Community Forum. Write a rebuttal to this article on the Arran Community Forum. Start a printing press to publish your rebuttal and print it on biodegradable hemp paper and hand deliver it to me.

Do any or all of the above right now and don’t look back. Find out what it is that you want to do with the rest of your life that will help our community and make it happen. Make a whole bunch of mistakes along the way and find perfection in your imperfections. Live in the moment, don’t regret the past and don’t worry about what is going to happen in the future. Don’t believe anyone who tells you we’ve got twelve years to fix it or two years to fix it or that we can wait until tomorrow to fix it. We don’t have any time left so above all enjoy yourself now folks. Enjoy yourself sustainably.

If you’re looking for ideas to start living sustainably on Arran (or if you’d like to submit your new diverse bamboo clothing and alpaca farm for inclusion), please visit my new website Arran Green Map ( If you are looking for a local graphic designer, please visit my website and help me to sustain my own livelihood.