Scotch whisky industry – committed to sustainability

Morag Garden, head of sustainability and innovation at the Scotch Whisky Association, explains how this famous industry is working hard to ensure a sustainable product now and in the future.

© Scotch Whisky Association

© Scotch Whisky Association

Scotch whisky is very much a product of its natural environment. The iconic product, recognised globally, is made from only three raw materials: water, cereals and yeast. It therefore relies on fertile land, and reliable rainfall and a high-quality water supply. To protect valuable resources, the Scotch whisky industry has always believed in sustainability and takes its environmental responsibilities seriously.

In 2009, the industry launched its far-reaching Environmental Strategy – the first sector-wide initiative of its kind. This award-winning strategy, which set ambitious voluntary targets, has driven many industry achievements of which we are proud, such as increasing the use of non-fossil fuels to almost 20% from 3% in 2008 and reducing the amount of waste from packaging operations sent to landfill to 2% from 13%.

But we are well aware that the world is constantly evolving and therefore the Scotch Whisky Environmental Strategy must do the same. That’s why we decided to check our ambitions to ensure they are in line with others expectations.

We have worked intensively within the Scotch whisky industry and with other stakeholders, such as environmental organisations and regulators, to refresh the strategy and make it fit-for-purpose for many years to come.

© Scotch Whisky Association

© Scotch Whisky Association

The Scotch whisky industry sees no contradiction between being modern, profitable and successful makers of a world-renowned product, and being at the heart of protecting Scotland’s unique natural environment.

The refreshed Industry Environmental Strategy sets even more ambitious voluntary targets, from responsible water use to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and has been broadened to reflect changing business operations. It is collective, building on the work of individual producers. And it relies on strong support from governments and supply chains to deliver on its ambitions.

It was launched in Edinburgh in September with a panel session including Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who welcomed the refresh.

An upland burn. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

The strategy now has four themes with targets for 2020 and 2050:

Reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050 some 80% of primary energy will come from non-fossil fuels, such as anaerobic digestion and solar power. Energy efficiency will be improved by 7.6% by 2020, in line with the Climate Change Agreement.

Responsible water use. Effective water use is a priority for the industry, given the reliance on a pristine supply. Distilling water efficiency will improve by 10% by 2020. This target is based on companies optimising efficient water use at their production sites. The industry will also deliver on its commitments in the River Basin Management Plans.

Embracing a ‘circular economy’ in the industry supply chain. The aim is to use resources for as long as possible, extracting maximum value from them and recovering and regenerating materials. This was a commitment for the industry long before the term ‘circular economy’ became widely used and recognised. For example, by 2020 no general waste will go to landfill and product packaging will be 100% recyclable.

Sustainable land use. The goal is to ensure a secure supply of high-quality raw materials, namely cereals and wood. This includes encouraging the use of wood sourced from sustainable oak forests to manufacture new casks.

In terms of what we aim to achieve overall, we have set three expected outcomes that will be delivered in 2020: greenhouse gas emissions will be 170,000 tonnes lower; water use will be 1.1 billion litres lower, and 4,400 fewer tonnes of waste will be sent to landfill.

Whisky stills at Lagavulin distillery, Isle of Islay. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

We have also put in place a number of measures to ensure we deliver the programme successfully. We will, for example, influence supply chains to help us minimise the industry’s environmental impact; we will collaborate closely with local communities, regulators and other stakeholders. As well as discussing industry progress with stakeholders every year, we will review the commitments at least once every five years.

Scotch whisky has been produced for more than 500 years and is now sold in around 200 markets across the world, with exports totalling about £4 billion annually. It plays a vital role in rural communities and urban economies across Scotland.

We are committed to ensuring that we work within a natural environment that allows us to continue to produce a world-class product for the next 500 years and more. We believe the refreshed Scotch Whisky Industry Environmental Strategy is a vital plank in guaranteeing a sustainable future.

Find out more about the Scotch Whisky Association here.

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