Greener Scotch Whisky?

Last Wednesday night, I delayed my usual appointment with The Great British Bake Off and headed along to the launch of the Scotch whisky industry’s updated environmental strategy.

The key word here is “updated” as the industry has taken great strides over the last seven years – since the first strategy was introduced in 2009 – to put environmental responsibility and sustainability at its heart.  The new strategy has been refreshed to broaden its remit to include even more ambitious green targets, from responsible water use to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy, which is managed by the Scotch Whisky Association on behalf of the industry, has four themes with voluntary targets to be met by 2020 and 2050.  These include:

  • 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. In 2008 this figure was 3% and increased to 17% by 2014.
  • Responsible water use. Distilling water efficiency will improve by 10% by 2020. This target is based on companies optimising efficient water use at their production sites.
  • Embracing a ‘circular economy’ in the industry supply chain. The aim will be to use resources for as long as possible, extracting maximum value from them and recovering and regenerating materials. For example, by 2020 no general waste will go to landfill, compared with 13% in 2008, 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.

The panel discussion launching the strategy included raised a number of interesting points about how far the industry has come, as well as how far it still has to go.

What struck me most was the ability of the Scotch whisky industry to come together and tackle these problems collectively.  Despite paying lip service to “partnership working” almost no other industry I can think of has had similar levels of success in the environmental arena. The success has possibly got to do with the relatively close knit nature of the sector and the small number of companies which own Scotland’s 120-ish distilleries, but still, their ability to make such fast progress whilst not sacrificing their competitive advantage is a model which other sectors should look to emulate.

We, as consumers, also have an important role to play.  The panel discussed how there is increasing demand for lavish packaging to accompany the Scotch whisky itself, especially from emerging markets.  However much of this packaging, which can include intricately designed bottles and extravagant wooden boxes, can’t be recycled and ends up in landfill.  So as drinkers of whisky, it’s important that we focus our attention on what’s in the bottles, rather than how its presented.

For an industry which calls rural Scotland its home and which relies on natural ingredients including water and barley, it only right that environmental responsibility it pushed to the top of the agenda.  And this updated strategy is evidence of an industry which is taking its responsibilities seriously and working together to achieve real, lasting results.

You can read the strategy in full (it’s briefness is a blessing!) on the Scotch Whisky Association’s website.