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Category: Climate Change


Whisky industry launches Water Stewardship Framework

The Scotch Whisky industry has launched its Water Stewardship Framework as part of wider sustainability commitments.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has published a Water Stewardship Framework, offering research-based guidance for the Scotch Whisky industry as it works to improve efficiency and make reductions in its water use across the production process.
Water is one of just three ingredients for making Scotch Whisky and is used extensively across the production and cleaning process. Distilleries’ water use varies greatly according to capacity and location, but all are committed to using water as responsibly as possible in line with the industry’s wider sustainability commitments. As part of its Sustainability Strategy launched in 2021, the SWA set a target range of 12.5 to 25 l/lpa (the amount of water used per litre of alcohol produced) by 2025, depending on distillery size and production.
The Framework focuses on three key areas: Responsible use, Engagement and Collaboration, and Advocacy. These three themes aim to provide SWA member companies with clear direction on how they can address water use and efficiency improvement in their operations, while incorporating wider collaboration and advocacy activities. The Framework encourages a collaborative industry approach to deliver on-the-ground improvement projects and influence future policy to ensure the protection and preservation of a vital resource. Previous data analysed by the SWA showed that water efficiency – measured in l/lpa – had improved by 22% since 2012. The SWA will continue to gather data from across the industry to re-benchmark progress and set ambitious targets to take the sector beyond compliance on water.
Ruth Piggin, Director of Industry Sustainability at the SWA said: “Water is a precious resource which is vital as both an ingredient for making Scotch Whisky and a tool in its production. The Water Stewardship Framework is an action-orientated commitment to the industry’s continued work to improve water management, and a serious acknowledgement of the importance of water to nature and the wider environment surrounding industry sites.

“We have a duty of care to ensure our use of water is as efficient and responsible as possible.”

Ruth Piggin, SWA

“The impact of the climate crisis is already being felt in Scotland’s water supply chain, and while distilleries manage this well, we understand that we have a duty of care to ensure our use of water is as efficient and responsible as possible. We’re committed to working closely with stakeholders including SEPA, government bodies and other relevant parties, to further improve the industry’s water stewardship.”

Nathan Critchlow-Watton, Head of Water and Planning at SEPA, said: “Scotland may be renowned for its rain but, as we’ve seen already this year, it can be extremely vulnerable to periods of prolonged, dry weather and with climate change these are expected to become more frequent in the years ahead.

“The businesses that thrive in the face of this challenge will be those that recognise the link between environmental and economic prosperity. They will work with SEPA and others in their industry to build resilience, reduce their water use and have a well-established plan for when we experience water scarcity. These actions will reduce the need for SEPA to impose restrictions on their business.

“It’s reassuring to see the whisky industry being proactive, taking their responsibility to help protect Scotland’s water environment seriously, and contributing to its long-term sustainability for all those who depend on it.”

Download the Water Stewardship Framework here


Climate Change Impact on Scotch Whisky: A Distinctive Taste at Stake

Climate change has become a pressing concern with far-reaching consequences across various industries. One industry significantly affected is Scotch whisky production. The distinctive character of Scotch whisky is intimately connected to its production environment, making it vulnerable to the changing climate. This article explores the effects of climate change on Scotch whisky and highlights the potential implications for this cherished beverage.
Water Source and Quality:
Climate change can disrupt the availability and quality of water, a crucial component in Scotch whisky production. Rising temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and prolonged droughts pose challenges to distilleries reliant on specific water sources. Changes in water quantity and quality can impact fermentation, mashing, and dilution processes, potentially altering the flavour profile of the final product.


Barley Production:
Barley, the primary grain used in Scotch whisky production, faces significant climate-related challenges. Warmer temperatures, extreme weather events, and changing precipitation patterns can affect barley yield, quality, and malting characteristics. Reduced barley production could lead to increased prices and potential sourcing challenges for distilleries, thus influencing the availability and affordability of Scotch whisky.
Oak Maturation:
The aging process in oak casks is a critical step in Scotch whisky production, contributing to its distinct taste and aroma. Climate change impacts forests where oak trees grow, potentially altering the availability, quality, and consistency of oak barrels. Changes in temperature and humidity can affect maturation rates, leading to variations in flavour development and potentially disrupting the traditional aging process.
Shifting Flavour Profiles:
The combined impact of altered water sources, barley production, and oak maturation due to climate change can result in shifting flavour profiles of Scotch whisky. Changes in these factors may lead to subtle or noticeable variations in taste, aroma, and overall character. Traditional whisky regions may experience shifts in their signature flavour profiles, which could challenge the expectations of both connoisseurs and distillers.
Adaptation and Mitigation Efforts:
Distilleries are recognizing the risks posed by climate change and taking proactive measures to adapt and mitigate its effects. Investments in sustainable practices, water management strategies, and responsible sourcing are becoming increasingly important. Some distilleries are exploring alternative barley varieties that are more resilient to changing climates, while others are actively participating in reforestation initiatives to secure future oak supplies.
Climate change poses significant challenges to Scotch whisky production, potentially affecting its water sources, barley production, oak maturation, and flavour profiles. The dynamic nature of these changes highlights the need for proactive measures and sustainable practices within the industry. While the full extent of climate change’s impact on Scotch whisky remains uncertain, distilleries’ efforts to adapt and mitigate can help preserve the cherished traditions and exceptional quality that define this iconic spirit.

Why peat is on the frontline of our battle against climate change

Degrading peat is estimated to be responsible for about 5% of UK carbon emissions, prompting debate over whether banning its use is the answer.

“You’ve heard of ‘tree-huggers’ protecting woodlands, We ‘bog-trotters’ love the wetlands.”

The words of agile ecologist Andrew McBride, from the Land and Habitats consultancy, as he strides across a marsh in Aberdeenshire.

"The point of the dam we are standing on is to hold more water here so the sphagnum moss can actually grow. "Sphagnum is one of the main things that makes peat."

But there is something almost magical about sphagnum moss. It looks like a bright green mass of feathery ferns.

It thrives without soil, has remarkable antiseptic properties, holds prodigious amounts of water and accumulates almost infinitely to make peat.

In July, the company reported a “standout” 50 per cent rise in sales in China at its interim results. “The desirability of what we have to offer surmounts the current situation in terms of the economy,” Ridley said. Graeme Littlejohn, strategy and communications director at the SWA, said the long-term nature of the industry meant it was able to defy short-term economic volatility, noting that at the height of the financial crisis in 2008-11, exports rose by 40 per cent. While it was “not immune to the global situation, the long-term vision means some of the bumps in the road are lessened”.

Peat covers about 12% of the UK and more than 20% of Scotland.

It’s in the fields of the Fens, the moors of the Pennines and blanket bogs of the Highlands.

In places it can be at least five metres deep and across the country holds more carbon than the woodlands of the UK, France and Germany combined.

But once it’s drained and dried that carbon lock is broken and the greenhouse gas escapes.

Degrading peat is estimated to be responsible for about 5% of UK carbon emissions.

One of the contributors to that degradation is whisky. It is key to the process of making many brands often infused with the treasured “peaty reek”.

The Scottish government has announced a desire to “phase out the use of peat for the sake of the environment” and has not ruled out including whisky in that ban.

The multi-national drinks company Beam Suntory gave Sky News a tour of their Ardmore Distillery on the edge of Speyside.

It’s a maze of giant vats, barrels and steampunk engineering accompanied by a magical mystery tour of aromas: malt, smoke, ancient wood and fresh fermentation.

Alistair Longwell, their head of environment and distilling, points out that whisky is responsible for less than 1% of the peat extracted in the UK, but what they do use is vital.

“For our brands and many others, peat is fundamentally important.

“It creates that unique character and flavour that our consumers love.

“A ban (on its use) would have a unique and detrimental impact on what is our standard bearing export – so important not just to Scotland but the UK as a whole.”

His company is helping to fund the restoration of peat bogs close to the distillery under the watchful and appreciative eye of Andrew McBride.

“Government alone can’t do this so it’s very important that companies that use peat, and others that are using the natural environment, give something back.”

But he also believes that wetlands have suffered from an image problem – seen as perilous, untrustworthy and linked with decay.

“Drain the Swamp” has even become a political chant.

“Bogs have been completely unloved for centuries, and they’ve been seen as sort of negative places,” he said.

“But when you actually start to understand them, you get onto them.

“You see the diversity, the different species.

“I think we’ve probably turned a corner now because people are paying much more attention to peatlands.”

The Scottish government certainly is.

Its proposals include phasing out the use of peat in gardening.

This is already scheduled to happen in England in 2024.

In reality, whisky’s iconic status and importance to the Scottish economy will probably save it from the ban.

Expect peat to vanish from the potting shed well before the drinks cabinet.



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Drinks firm plans carbon-neutral distillery after gaining new investor

A drinks firm is planning to build a new carbon-neutral, whisky distillery after winning a major new investment.

Edinburgh-based, specialist, consumer-brand investor Inverleith LLP has just secured a majority stake in the Eden Mill St Andrews craft gin and Scotch whisky company.

The drinks firm plans to build a new whisky distillery in St Andrews, with founder and managing director, Paul Miller, describing it as a “really exciting moment” for the business.

He stated: “Having secured Inverleith LLP as the majority investor into the business, we will be able to realise our distillery ambition and unlock the potential of Eden Mill St Andrews as a premium, craft gin and premium, single malt, scotch whisky here in the UK and overseas.

Eden Mill founder Paul Miller said it was an exciting time for the firm.

“With their consumer-strategic-brand and commercial expertise, I  am confident that we have found the right partner to drive and support the next and most significant stage of the Eden Mill journey.”

Eden Mill, which was founded by Mr Miller and Tony Kelly in 2012, hopes to open the new distillery in late 2022.

Meanwhile, the investment will also enable the company to expand its distribution in the UK and internationally.


Paul Skipworth, managing partner at Inverleith LLP, hailed the deal as a “fantastic addition to Inverleith’s portfolio of premium, consumer brands.

He said: “Eden Mill St Andrews has one of the most exciting futures within premium gin and whisky and we are delighted to be supporting the realisation of its vision.

“As a team, we have a long heritage in the development of premium spirits, both operationally and as investors, and we believe we will be a strong partner for Paul Miller and the wider Eden Mill team over the coming years.

“We admire the work that Eden Mill has done to date in developing high quality, great-tasting gins and scotch whiskies and we look forward to helping the brand and its products achieve international success.”

Paul Skipworth


Diageo aims to warm up net-zero credentials with Fife solar farm plans

Spirits giant Diageo – Scotland’s biggest whisky producer by volume – has applied for planning permission for a major on-site solar energy farm at its Leven packaging plant.

Should the plans get the green light, they would see 12,000 solar panels capable of producing four megawatts of electricity installed on vacant land at the 150-acre plant, which produces 40 million cases of premium spirits each year.

The owner of brands including Johnnie Walker and Guinness said the move is part of its plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its direct operations by 2030 – and it is working with energy company E.ON and Emtec Energy, a local Scottish business, to develop the solar-panel farm.

The latter would be entirely within the existing footprint of the Leven packaging plant site

and is planned carefully to ensure minimal visual and environmental impact on the surrounding area.

Does making whiskey harm the environment?

Gavin Brogan, operations director at the Leven packaging plant, said: “We have been on the journey to environmental sustainability at Leven for many years and we have made great progress, but this solar array would take us to another level, allowing us to generate our own renewable energy onsite and contributing to Diageo’s global ambition to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

“We have planned this carefully and we are happy to engage our neighbours and local stakeholders during the planning application process.”

The firm added that in Scotland, three of its Scotch whisky distilleries – Oban, Royal Lochnagar and Brora – have already achieved net-zero carbon emissions. Diageo also recently confirmed that its Johnnie Walker Princes Street attraction in Edinburgh will open on September 6.


Greener whisky: Scottish distilleries working on reducing carbon footprint

As world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference, many will be sampling a dram or two of Scotland’s famous whiskies.

And they may even take note of how the industry is leading the way to create a carbon-neutral future.

One of Scotland’s most prestigious whisky makers, Oban, has been looking at ways of reducing its carbon footprint in the whisky-making process.

In 2018, the distillery switched from using fossil fuels to a rapeseed oil biofuel, reducing the distillery’s carbon footprint by 98 per cent.

“It’s given us a transition fuel to be carbon neutral quicker. We have been carbon neutral now since late 2020. It’s allowing us to make that transition step towards zero carbon,” says Callum Rew, the senior site manager of Oban Distillery.

“We wanted to be out there, we wanted to be pioneering, we wanted to be there first and try and do something and learn, so as the other distilleries within Diageo can learn from ourselves.”

“And biofuel was new on the market, so we thought we’ll try it, we’ll test it, it’s a very relatively small distillery here at Oban, so it’s maybe easier to try and integrate it here first.”

Does making whiskey harm the environment?

Whisky making can be taxing on the environment. A huge amount of energy is required to extract the sugars out of the grain in the mashing process before even taking into account transporting the products all around the world.

But the industry has been taking steps to lower the environmental impact.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, since 2009, there has been a 34 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A huge amount of energy is required to extract the sugars out of the grain in the mashing processs.”

Karen Betts, chief executive of the associations laid out the industry’s plans: “It’s really important to us that we are sustainable both now and into the future. We think that through collaboration, innovation, investment, ingenuity, and a bit of time, we can get there by 2040. And if we can get there by 2040, we absolutely should.”

On the western edge of the Scottish highlands, Ardnamurchan Distillery has been using sustainable energy sources since its opening in July 2014.

Shift leader in the distillery, Scott Stewart, says that Scotch whisky’s new green credentials will give it recognition all over the world.

“It’s what the country is famous for, it’s so famous for its whisky. So, if we can show that one of our major exports, or biggest export, is being as green as possible and as sustainable as possible and environmentally conscious, then it reflects fantastically on the whole country. And it can be an example to other industries to follow.”

It is estimated the Scottish whisky production is worth around €6.5 billion to the British exchequer and, with a little Dutch courage, the industry is aiming to reach net-zero emissions in its operations by 2040, ten years ahead of the British government’s 2050 target.


Scotch Whisky Association Raises a Toast to Race to Zero Partnership Status

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has become Scotland’s first trade association, and the UK’s first food and drink trade association, to be recognised as a Race to Zero partner in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow this November. The partnership, which was approved by the UN High Level Climate Action Champions, recognises the Scotch Whisky industry’s commitment to robust net zero criteria in line with globally halving emissions by 2030.

The Scotch Whisky Association has achieved partner status because of the Scotch Whisky industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability, which is set out in the Scotch Whisky industry’s Sustainability Strategy. The Strategy, which was launched in January this year, commits the sector to reaching net zero in its operations by 2040, five years ahead of the Scottish Government’s target and 10 years ahead of the UK Government’s target. It also includes ambitious targets to drive down the industry’s environmental impact in key areas including water use, packaging and responsible land use. Scotch Whisky companies can now join Race to Zero through the SWA by publicly pledging to achieve net zero as soon as possible, producing a clear plan for how they will achieve these targets and contribute their share in the race to zero – all in line with the Scotch Whisky industry’s Sustainability Strategy.

Karen Betts, Chief Executive of the SWA said:

 “I’m delighted that the Scotch Whisky Association has become a Race to Zero Partner. This recognises the hard work and significant investments that Scotch Whisky producers are making to transition away from fossil fuel use and to drive up the use of renewable energy in order to reach net zero. It also recognises how successful the industry is proving to be at working collaboratively towards net zero and in improving our environmental impact in the round.

“Our Race to Zero partnership status is something to celebrate as COP26 approaches, where we are looking forward to showcasing the Scotch Whisky industry’s environmental sustainability achievements and ambitions.”

Karen Betts

Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Action Champion, said:

“We raise a toast to the Scotch Whisky Association as a new Partner in the Race to Zero. It’s great to welcome this industry into the campaign, and I commend the actions they are taking now to meet their ambitious target of achieving net zero by 2040. All of us across the global economy have a role to play in halving global emissions by 2030 – who will join us next?”

Nigel Topping


This work will culminate in a SBCC Pledge, to be announced during COP26, when other businesses will be invited to adopt the measures in the pledge. Following COP26, the group will meet on a biannual basis to share best practice, ensure the spirit of the SBCC Pledge is being observed and consider further ways to collaborate to work towards net zero.