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Climate Change

Climate Change
Find out how the Scotch Whisky industry is tackling climate change together.

Moving to Net Zero

Climate change is the most pressing emergency the world faces today. The climate crisis impacts people’s lives and livelihoods, the planet’s biodiversity and the availability of natural resources. We have a responsibility to help tackle the crisis – both as an industry and through direct action by each of our member companies.  

We will achieve Net Zero emissions by 2040 in our own operations. To do that, we will reduce our carbon footprint in our operations by a further 40% in the next decade to 2030, in comparison with our baseline year of 2018. Generating heat for distillation is the primary source of emissions in the industry. We will harness existing and new technologies such as anaerobic digestion, biomass, hydrogen, and high temperature heat pumps to move towards Net Zero.  

Decarbonising operations is part of the story. But businesses must also demonstrate what they have achieved – and what they have still to do. We will be open and transparent on our journey. All our companies will publish their annual carbon footprint from 2022 at the latest, using the SECR format.  


Learn more about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals here.

Achieving Net Zero ambitions

To avoid the worst effects of climate change, science tells us that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To show leadership we will achieve Net Zero emissions by 2040, five years ahead of the Scottish government Net Zero target and 10 years ahead of UK government.  

We have also set a milestone for 2030: a further 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction in our operations, in comparison with our baseline year of 2018. 

A 40% reduction is ambitious

We have already made significant progress, reducing emissions by 34% between 2008 and 2018. Our 2030 ambition equates to a 60% reduction since 2008.

Our interim targets are set to a much tighter timescale than UK and Scottish Government targets. The latter are measured against performance in 1990 – a time when carbon intensive fossil fuels dominated the UK’s energy mix.

Many of the technologies we need to move to Net Zero are still largely unproven.

How will we achieve our goals? 

We will move towards Net Zero in our own operations (Scope 1 and 2) by implementing carbon reduction and energy efficiency measures. We will prioritise sustainable energy alternatives and will only resort to offsetting emissions once all our other options have been exhausted. The Net Zero report published in June 2020 explains how it can be done.

Scope 1 refers to all direct greenhouse gas emissions within the boundaries of a company’s operations.

Scope 2 refers to indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.

Our challenge

Mashing and distillation are heat-intensive processes, using up a lot of energy. The heat is used to produce steam, which is currently generated in boilers by combusting fuel. Some distilleries use natural gas to generate the heat, but those that are not connected to the gas grid use alternativesFor example, on the Scottish islands they use oil-fired boilers to provide most of the heat. Some distillers have transitioned from fuel oil to lower carbon intensive fuels such as LPG or CNG on their pathway to net zero.   

Significant investments have already been made in renewable heat using existing technology, but we need to do more. To reach Net Zero we will also need to use technologies that are still unproven for industrial heat, such as hydrogen at scale and high temperature heat pumps.  

Experts predict that these technologies will prove their worth during the 2020s, before becoming fully implemented in the 2030s. We will take a proactive role, working with innovators and researchers to encourage change where we can.  

Energy alternatives

Energy alternatives include: 

Biomass: organic matter, such as sustainably sourced wood or industrial by-products like spent cereal grains energy crops, can be converted to fuel. The carbon released in the combustion process is generally offset by the carbon trapped in the organic matter by photosynthesis during its growth, making it carbon-neutral.  

Anaerobic digestion: organic matter is broken down into carbon dioxide, methane, water and bacteria, in order to produce biogas and biofertiliserBiogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide that can be used to produce heat and electricity or mixed into vehicle fuel and gas grids. Biofertiliser is a nutrient-rich substance that can be applied to farmlandfed into ethanol production or even used in building materials like fibreboard. 

Hydrogen: a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only waterBlue hydrogen is created from fossil sources, where the carbon emissions are captured and stored. Green hydrogen is made from non-fossil sources, such as wind and solar energy. Hydrogen use in the distilling industry has yet to be proven. To succeed, distillers would need a reliable supply of hydrogen, and in the future, some may be able to produce green hydrogen on-site through electrolysis. 

High temperature heat pumps: used to deliver heat for industrial use. They currently deliver heat at around 70-80 degrees Celsius, whereas for industrial use, temperatures must be between 100-200 degrees.  


Being open and transparent 

We can only reach our targets if we know what we have achieved, and how much more we have to do. So we will always let our members, our customers and our regulators know exactly where we stand. We will report annually on the progress the industry as a whole is making on our new strategy.  

Visible and accountable 

Our members have made a pledge to report publicly at a company level in line with the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting regulations by 2022. This will include reporting on energy use and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. 

The larger companies in the industry already report at company level via this scheme.  

This pledge means that the entire industry will be providing complete transparency before it becomes obligatory in Scotland. 

The Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting regulations

The 2018 regulations are designed to increase awareness of energy costs within organisations and help them adopt energy efficiency measures to reduce their impact on climate change. Large UK companies now have to report publicly on their UK energy use and carbon emissions.