TEMPERATURE changes caused by global warming could impact whisky production, and COP26 highlighted the need for distilleries to seriously consider their carbon footprint. Even the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) set a target in hoping to achieve net zero emissions in its own operations by 2040.

A few organisations within the whisky industry in Scotland are planning ahead and setting examples in being more sustainable. Some distilleries established over the last decade have been pioneers in this journey and have outlined different methods to utilise various by-products in whisky production.

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Launched in Argyll in 2017, Nc’Nean was one of the first few organic distilleries to look into various aspects of going green, from being powered by renewable energy to ensuring that the trees which are harvested are replanted. Apart from its sustainability report being accessible on the website, as a business it has also successfully managed to achieve zero waste to landfill through its operations and is continuously looking for ways it can turn wasteful aspects like draff, pot ale and fermentation gases into valuable resources.

According to its sustainability report, the emission footprint of its onsite energy use is just 0.10kg CO2e per bottle of whisky. To include the emissions produced in its supply chain, that figure goes up to 1.87kg CO2e.

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“The first step in the process is for distilleries to measure and publish their carbon footprints so that consumers can understand what the impact is of the whisky they drink. We have put a lot of effort into reducing and measuring our water use on site, and our innovative water recycling means that we have an average water footprint of 17 litres of water for every bottle of finished product. In the future, we hope that we can encourage our suppliers to measure their water usages too, so we can preserve vital water resources,” says Nc’Nean’s visitor manager Amy Stammers.

Three years ago, it started using a product called Enzybrew which is PH neutral and biodegradable (although the caustic is neutralised when it is combined with pot ale) to clean the wash stills. Nc’Nean has also switched its daily cleaning products from caustic ones to eco alternatives, to take that extra step in preserving our biodiversity.

Further up, on the other side of Loch Stuart, Adelphi Distillery Ltd’s Ardnamurchan Distillery was recently awarded the Good Practice Award by the Scottish Environment Business Awards. “The idea of building the distillery came about in 2007 and we started distilling in late summer 2014, at that point in the world of whisky, sustainable methods and practices were not very common,” says Jenny Karlsson, marketing communications manager at Ardnamurchan Distillery.

The National: Visit Nc'nean Distillery Organic.

“We are fortunate to have a strong, engaging green team here, where we are looking at a working framework to be utilised within the industry. The distillery is surrounded by renewable forestry and we work closely with a wood chipping plant located a few miles away. They bring us wood chip for our boiler which is used to heat up our stills and they remove our by-products such as pot ale and draff. They turn this into animal food pellets used to feed the local livestock on the peninsula. This is our circular economy at its best,” she adds.

Karlsson also explains the most unique manner in which the Ardnamurchan Distillery disposes of another by-product known as spent lees. It travels to the wood chip plant via pipes from the distillery, when there it is treated in reedbeds, a natural process where the reed root bacteria naturally works with the spent lees so that it can be returned to the local area in a safe manner.

Another project that the team are working on is using the ash that comes from the wood chip burner as a fertiliser to be used by local vegetable growers. They are also in the early stages of exploring how to potentially repurpose their CO2 waste into something helpful for the peninsula and its surroundings.

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On the Isle of Raasay, the distillery aims to remind its whisky drinkers the importance of conservation through their bottles that are made with clay moulds of Raasay’s rocks and fossils. Keeping the SWA’s net zero target, the Isle of Raasay wants to reduce more than 83% of its current carbon emissions this year. It has also focused on reducing waste in key areas such as replacing plastic packaging with cardboard. The team has always been proud to donate excess barley draff to their local crofters to use as cattle feed.

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“As islanders, we are well aware of the challenges we face and our responsibilities in trying to lessen the impact on our environment. Last year, two of our team members helped lead a crowdfunding campaign to bring a community hydro scheme to the island, raising over £600,000 for its construction,” says William Dobbie, the commercial director of the distillery.

The team has partnered with The Department of Chemical and Process Engineering and are seeking to appoint a KTP Associate in the area of hydrogen energy, with a focus on the development of a direct electrolysis process that can turn waste products into hydrogen, as well as using hydrogen to power whisky production. Alongside this, the key aim of the position will be to address further decarbonisation of the ongoing processes.

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Lindores Abbey Distillery in the Lowlands is very proud of its early steps taken towards achieving its green credentials – from beekeeping to pollinate the garden where it grows herbs foraged for its Aqua Vitae spirit, to planting a fruit orchard of more than 600 trees, including some rare heritage varieties. All of the ingredients for its whisky are sourced from within a five-mile radius to lower transport emissions.

While challenges still lie ahead for several distilleries in Scotland, the progress and impact made by many others gives hope in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking small steps in serving a dram with a difference.