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An Evolving Industry

Our progress so far
Learn more about where we are on our Sustainability journey, since launching our first strategy in 2009.

The Scotch Whisky industry was the first industry in Scotland to launch a sector-wide Environmental Strategy in 2009, putting ambitions in place early on to reflect the importance of sustainability to the industry.  

The Strategy was pioneering and ambitious for its time, setting a number of targets that took the industry beyond legal compliance. Even at launch in 2009, we recognised that the Strategy would need to evolve to meet more stretching sustainability ambitions and to reflect better data and changes to reporting requirements. Our updated and revised sustainability ambitions were launched in 2021, and since then we have continued to revise and update them to reflect the availability of information, latest research and in response to a changing regulatory background. In line with a science-based approach this evolution will continue into the future as we respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead.  

The Backdrop

  • 148 distilleries 
  • 22 million casks maturing 
  • Exports worth £6.2bn, shipping to 174 markets 

Our industry is over 500 years old, and there are distillery sites throughout Scotland that have stood for more than a century alongside those which are still under construction. Sustainability and working towards Net Zero is a complex challenge, and each site will have its own unique journey.

Driving down emissions: Net Zero

Net Zero in our emissions is our ambition, including those in our own operations (known as scope 1 and 2) and incorporating those produced across our supply chains, known as scope 3. More broadly, our industry aims to achieve Net Zero across all three scopes by 2045 in line with a science-based approach. 


Reporting | Reviewing | Renewing


What is a science-based approach?

Environmental targets have to evolve, or they become redundant. What was thought of as unachievable in one decade can be surpassed in the next, as technology improves and as legislation progresses to meet the climate crisis head-on. Taking a science-based approach ensures that: 

  • We are using recent, consistent data gathered from across our member companies to inform, make and manage decisions 
  • We monitor and analyse changes in national and global regulation on climate change, and its impact on our sector 
  • We frame any progress against the backdrop of the Scotch Whisky industry’s continued growth 

What gets measured, gets managed. A science and evidence-based approach allows the SWA to inform and support Scotch Whisky companies in their own work to decarbonise and invest in the most efficient sustainability methods.

This is the progress that the Scotch Whisky industry has made against its original targets:

Reducing Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Where have we come from? 

Where are we now? 

Under our previous strategy, we recorded data using a methodology on best available evidence at the time.  


This helped us understand our activities and progress over a decade which includes 

  • 39% of primary energy use comes from non-fossil fuel sources, surpassing our 20% target for 2020 by 2016. 
  • Many of our members have switched from higher to lower or zero carbon-emitting fuels and continue to make significant investments in energy efficiency and renewable technologies.  

The definition of Net Zero now includes Scope 3 – emissions created across our supply chain. 

The SWA has created a new baseline from which all future progress will be measured. 

We have updated our methodology, taking an approach to align with the now well-established international reporting standards. 

This new data – which will be updated and reported on annually – has further improved the industry’s accountability and understanding on reducing our Scope 1 and 2 emissions. While we cannot make direct comparisons of the past, as we look to accelerate action in the future from 2024 onwards, as before, we expect to see key metrics coming down from this revised baseline as the Scotch Whisky industry continues to make changes to its technology and efficiency across production. 

Water Management

Where have we come from? 

Where are we now? 

  • Water efficiency has improved by 22% since 2012.   


In 2023 we launched a Water Stewardship Framework for the industry, covering 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. 

SWA are already turning this Framework to action, commissioning research with the objective to build best practice guidance to support members own operational decisions 

Circular Economy

Where have we come from? 

Where are we now? 

Our members have reduced general waste to landfill to just 1%.   

We continue to collaborate with waste management companies to bring landfill use down further.   

94% of packaging materials are reusable or recyclable.   

The recycled content of our product packaging is 37%. Glass has the biggest impact on this target.   

We continue to explore how supplies of high-quality glass bottles can be maintained whilst increasing their recycled content.   

Our overall packaging weight has increased by 2.6% since 2012, reflecting that Scotch Whisky is increasingly a premium purchase. This is one of the key challenges to address and one we are now focused on. 

Our work with companies is now about ensuring our industry maximises its use of resources, closing the loop across different areas of our production from grain to glass. 

Packaging is one of our most complex areas of work, with regulation across the world accelerating at a pace to address some of the common challenges for society and across industries. Our focus has developed to establishing the evidence and tools for members enabling them to understand how industry can drive down its impact. Our work and commissioned research looks at both tackling emissions as well as our resource use.  


Caring for the Land

Where have we come from? 

Where are we now? 

Caring for the land was a new iteration of our 2021 Sustainability Strategy, as our industry acknowledged the need to protect and restore the environment that Scotch Whisky calls home. 


Tangible action is going on across sites throughout Scotland. The industry is supporting restoration, regeneration and protection across our supply chains. 

We have established working groups across the supply chains for grain and peat to ensure coherent work plan and collaborative action can be taken against our shared ambitions.  

The publication of our Commitment to Responsible Peat Use