It was our national bard Rabbie Burns who opined: “Freedom an’ whisky gang thegither!” and for centuries, uisce beatha, or the ‘water of life’, has certainly been synonymous with sustaining our more traditional socialising.

However, as the modern nation strives to meet ambitious emissions targets to mitigate the effects of climate change, how sustainable is the distillery industry itself?

The evidence suggests it is doing more than raise a symbolic glass to the notion of net zero.

“We’ve created a multi-year plan as part of our commitment to being carbon-neutral by 2040 and halving CO2 emissions by 2030,” notes Peter Nelson, who is director of operations at The Glenmorangie Company.

“We’ve already introduced several sustainability initiatives to meet these targets. At our Glenmorangie Distillery, our anaerobic digestion (AD) plant cleans over 98 per cent of our waste water and generates biogas, which now contributes 20 per cent of the energy needed to run the distillery.”

Nelson also points to the fact the whisky manufacturer’s bottling plant has installed 1,500 photovoltaic solar panels to power the production of more than 10 million bottles annually. These panels have exceeded their initial 30 per cent target and delivered 40 per cent of the site’s energy needs in 2022.

“Along with other distilleries we have funded a feasibility study for the Cromarty Hydrogen Project to provide green energy for whisky production,” he adds. “We’re also running trials at our distillery to create biogas from the CO2 generated from fermentation.”

It’s not only distillery processes that have been adapted to become more sustainable; employee engagement initiatives have also been blended into the mix.

“Employee engagement is important to us, and we hold a platinum award from Investors in People,” says Maria Rooney, HR director for Glenmorangie. Only two per cent of companies in the UK achieve this award.

“Our ‘People Promise’ has four pillars that underpin our people engagement strategy,” says Rooney. “We adapt our HR initiatives to the employees’ needs while making sure they line up to the business strategy. It is important to listen and understand how we can keep improving the employee experience.”

The company is also proactive in research partnerships with Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society, including the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP). The aim of this innovative project is to restore to the Dornoch Firth native oysters, which became extinct a century ago. A restored oyster reef will work in tandem with the company’s AD plant to enhance water quality and marine biodiversity in the Firth, as well as acting as a carbon store.

Earlier this year, Heriot-Watt published a new research paper that predicted DEEP’s restoration efforts could double biodiversity in the Dornoch Firth over the next decade.

Nelson says: “To date 70,000 oysters have been restored and we are well on our way to reaching a target of a test reef of 200,000 oysters by the end of 2024, which is a key milestone in a long-term ambition to have a self-sustaining reef of four million within five years.”

Another industry leader in sustainability is Arbikie Distillery on the east coast of Angus. Here they have been working on establishing a number of juniper plantations across the estate, planting approximately 1000 plants a year. These are not only critical to the company’s gin production but to the UK’s juniper stock, which is under severe threat from a pathogen.

Arbikie is keen to note: “The word ‘sustainable’ is not just a badge for us. It is the very essence of our field-to-bottle operation, and at the heart of our farming practices and distillery craft. For every decision we make, we consider the environmental impact and how we can do things better.”