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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 a priority for our industry. As part of this businesses must also demonstrate what they have achieved – and what they have still to do. We will be open and transparent on our journey.  

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.

We will achieve Net Zero emissions in our own operations  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 comparison with our baseline year of 2018. 

A 40% reduction is ambitious, given many of our industry sites are in rural locations, each creating unique challenges and deployment of some technologies are unproven for whisky operations. We have already made significant progress, reducing emissions by 53% between 2008 and 2020. Our 2030 ambition equates to a 60% reduction since 2008.

As many of the technologies we need to move to Net Zero are still largely unproven, this is a challenging target for the industry. Some companies may achieve Net Zero ahead of the goal – but our responsibility is to support the industry as a whole decarbonise no matter their size or scale.

How will we achieve our goals? 

We will move towards Net Zero in our own operations (Scope 1 and 2) by following the energy hierarchy.  We will implement energy reduction, energy efficiency and carbon reduction 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.

Scope 3 refers to emissions from the industry’s supply chain, not in direct control of a company’s operations. Scope 3 emissions are not currently within our 2040 goal. They are however an important focus for the industry and we are continuing to consider ways in which we can play our part in tackling Scope 3 emissions. The wider strategy pillars directly link to important Scope 3 areas and the industry is eager to collaborate with its supply chains to drive down emissions.

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 alternatives. For 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.  Others have moved directly from fuel oil to biomass.   

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.  


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 on the progress the industry as a whole is making towards our sustainability strategy targets.

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.