GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
Sharing a dram with friends in person cannot be replaced by digital forums, but the shift towards a cleaner, greener industry encouraged by lockdown is a good thing, says Blair Bowman
Bowman reflects on whisky's shift towards being a cleaner, greener industry
Whisky production is notoriously energy thirsty, with lots of heating and cooling needed throughout the malting, mashing and distilling processes. What’s more, these essential stages can require huge volumes of water. Astonishingly, the production of whisky is around seven times more energy intensive than that of gin, with the generation of heat for the distillation process accounting for 83% of the distillation industry’s fuel consumption.
However, over the last several years significant investments have been made across the industry to make whisky production more efficient. By using systems such as waste heat recovery, energy can be recycled. Famously, the swimming pool in Bowmore, on Islay, uses a system like this to heat the pool water.
In 2009, the Scotch Whisky Association launched an industry-wide Environmental Strategy. Since then there have been significant improvements. As it stands, 28% of primary energy use is from non-fossil fuels, and just 1% of waste is sent to landfill (down 75% since 2016). We’ve also seen a 34% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 22% improved efficiency of water use.
Fast-forward to January 2021 and the Scotch Whisky Association has made a bold statement of intent. The new Sustainability Strategy commits the sector to reaching net-zero emissions by 2040, five years ahead of the Scottish Government’s 2045 net-zero target and ten years ahead of the UK Government target.
The Environmental Strategy also states: by 2025, all new product packaging will be reusable, recyclable and compostable; by 2035, the industry will play an active role in the conservation and restoration of Scotland’s peatland; and will continue to use water efficiently.
These new commitments will require significant work from across the industry’s supply chain, especially the target for all new packaging. I’ve always been frustrated by the non-recyclable nature of tubes and cartons that whisky bottles come in. Many have metal tops and bottoms which make the whole thing non-recyclable. Most of these bits of packaging end up in the bin (or recycling) anyway, but these are still viewed as an important part of the product as a whole. A lot at auction without its original box will sell for considerably less.
The Scotch Whisky Association says that by 2018, 94% of packaging was already reusable and recyclable. Regardless, I suspect the new industry commitment will require a lot of work and that consumer expectations may also have to change.
With luxury consumers demanding a luxury product to be shipped around the globe, the weight of whisky in transit can be considerable. In fact, packaging weight has increased 2.6% since 2012. This doesn’t even factor in the components that are imported to create the finished product (cork from Portugal, glass from Poland, Italy or France, for instance), only to be shipped back out to the world again. A few years ago it was revealed the tennis balls at Wimbledon travel 50,000 miles before being hit at SW19 when you factor in the materials and production steps. Seeing equivalent statistics for whisky production would make for interesting reading.
In early 2021, eleven distilleries across Scotland – including Bruichladdich, Highland Park and InchDairnie – received grants of between £44-75k as part of a UK Government Green Distilleries Fund. This is to be put towards the introduction of biomass or biofuel boilers and geothermal energy.
I suspect that all industries will see reduced international business travel as we emerge from the pandemic. Whisky is available in over 190 markets, so trips to see customers, or to attend exhibitions and festivals, were considered a normal part of our world.
Meantime, digital events will undoubtedly be the way forward – at least in the short-term. Companies are keeping their overheads down and reducing their air-miles, which can only be a good thing.
But no matter how advanced the technology, or how easy it is to communicate from afar, enjoying a dram in the company of others is a far richer experience – one that will without doubt seem all the more special when this storm finally passes.
“Investments have been made across the industry to make whisky production more efficient