Scotland’s “water of life” – its whisky industry – is turning green

The Scotch whisky industry is investigating innovations including hydrogen-powered distilleries to move more quickly towards becoming carbon neutral. Greig Cameron discusses latest developments in an article on The Times website.


Whisky industry goes green with 2040 target for carbon neutrality

Scotland’s water of life is turning green. The whisky industry is investigating innovations including hydrogen-powered distilleries to move more quickly towards becoming carbon neutral.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is aiming for the sector to achieve the target by 2040. It is the first time the trade body’s sustainability strategy has outlined a clear path towards net zero emissions.

Karen Betts, the chief executive, said the targets were “ambitious and achievable”. Eleven projects in Scotland received money as part of the Green Distilleries Fund this month to research ways to switch from fossil fuel.

Many of the carbon emissions in distilleries come from burning oil or gas to generate heat for the stills. Hydrogen, which can be created using renewable energy, with only water as a by-product, is thought one of the most likely candidates to replace the fossil fuels.

Feasibility studies are being carried out at distilleries over the next few months, with the first test projects likely to be under way before the end of the year. High-temperature insulated heat stores are another method being explored. They use electricity to raise the temperature inside them and that can then be used in a heating process. Existing methods such as biomass boilers may also form part of the solution.

The association does not expect the large-scale change of heating fuel to take place until the end of the decade at the earliest as the technology is not yet fully tested.

However, it is pushing harder on packaging and urging companies to have completely reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging by 2025.

It is hopeful of improving the quality of glassware over time as well, after some brands at the premium end of the market previously expressed concerns about the “cloudy” nature of recycled glass, and whether it could damage the perception of their product.

The recycling and re-use of water is another part of the strategy with all companies being encouraged to be in a “responsible” range by 2025.

Alongside these changes, the SWA is pushing for improved land use by working more closely on biodiversity with farmers and communities.

It highlighted a range of projects its members were involved in, from large-scale tree planting to the re-introduction of wild oyster populations in the Dornoch Firth.

A further part of that will be an involvement in peat land restoration to help deliver environmental benefits.

While whisky only uses a small proportion of peat — thought to be about 1 per cent of the total — the SWA believes its members can play a part in helping look after what is already there.

Ms Betts said: “All of this is close to distillers’ hearts because we know we must protect the natural environment. We depend on natural resources — water, cereals, yeast — to make Scotch whisky. We are also proud that COP26 [the environmental conference] will be hosted in Glasgow later this year. The eyes of the world will be on Scotland, and on ours and others’ efforts to reverse the damaging impacts of climate change.

“We are looking forward to showcasing our industry’s contribution to global efforts to ensure our generation can arrest climate change and secure the future of our planet.”

Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, said: “The spirits industry is a key Scottish sector and this strategy is an excellent example of industry playing a part in the green industrial revolution.”

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