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Agribusiness News August 2023 – Management Matters: The Whisky Industry & Net Zero

31 July 2023

Setting intentions

The Scotch whisky industry has set ambitious goals for achieving net zero, with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) pledging to reduce, avoid and offset their local emissions in their constituent distilleries by 2040.  SWA members have already made significant progress, achieving a 53% reduction in emissions between 2008 and 2020 and many distilleries are on track to achieve net zero ahead of the 2040 target.

Importantly, the SWA target is limited to their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and excludes upstream emissions (Scope 3):

  • Scope 1: ‘Direct’ emissions from burning fuel on site.
  • Scope 2: Emissions from the creation of purchased electricity, heat, and steam.
  • Scope 3: Supply chain emissions embedded in purchased raw materials, good and services; Also includes transportation, distribution, processing, use, and end-of-life treatment of sold products.

This is similar to goals set by other food and drink sector stakeholders, e.g., Tesco and Sainsbury’s, which have comparable targets set for 2035.

In the context of whisky production, Scope 1 and 2 is limited to maltings, distillation, maturation, blending, bottling, and warehousing.  The primary source of Scope 1 and 2 emissions for distilleries is heat generation for the distilling process.

Widening the scope

There is a recognition in the industry that whisky is a product embedded and crucially dependent on a well-functioning landscape.  Therefore, whisky producers accept that they need to go further and take responsibility for the rippling effects the industry has on Scotland’s environment.

SEPA’s Scotch whisky sector plan gives the upstream effects of whisky production as:

GHG emissions

  • Nitrate emissions and diffuse pollution from production of cereals
  • GHG emissions from production and transport of raw materials
  • GHG emissions and impacts on biodiversity from peat extractions and burning

Other impacts

  • Impacts on water quantity and ecology from abstractions to irrigate cereals
  • Impacts on quality and structure of soils from cereal production

Many distillery operations have taken it upon themselves to put sustainability at the centre of their values, embracing a holistic, life-cycle view and scrutinising their operations from grain to glass.

Implications for farmers

Barley makes up 63% of Scotland’s cereal crop and the whisky industry makes up a large proportion of demand.  As distillery buyers look to cut emissions associated with the barley they are sourcing, this will drive a ‘race to the bottom’ and innovation among cereal producers and agronomists.

Heriot Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling has launched a two-year project to trial sustainable fertilisers on barley crops, to replace high-footprint fertilisers.  These alternative ‘bio-stimulants’ are made from algae, bacteria, and yeast.  The team at Heriot Watt, in collaboration with University College Dublin, are examining their effects on health, yield, high heat tolerance, enzyme values, soluble protein content, and flavour in the resulting malts.

Other supply chain actors are doing their part also, with Simpsons Malt launching a £45m project to install a high-voltage electrical boiler which will use surplus energy from wind farms and reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 55%, significantly reducing emissions embedded in their produced maltings., 0131 603 7529

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