Climate crisis: Whisky distilleries to become net-zero under Diageo sustainability plans

Boilers to be converted to run on renewable liquid biofuel in environmental push

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 24 November 2020 18:09
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Oban distillery in Argyle is Diageo’s second-smallest whisky distillery
Oban distillery in Argyle is Diageo’s second-smallest whisky distillery

Two Scottish distilleries are to reach net-zero emissions by the end of the year, with many more following over the next decade under a new drive by drinks giant Diageo to reduce impacts on the environment.

The boilers at the Oban distillery in Argyle and at the Royal Lochnagar distillery in Aberdeenshire will be converted to depend on liquid biofuels produced from vegetable oil residue, which the company has described as 100 per cent renewable.

Diageo will then aim to make its entire portfolio of 28 single malt production facilities net-zero by 2030.

The company said the heat required for the distillation process is currently the most significant energy use in whisky production.

The first two distilleries are the company’s two smallest operations in Scotland. Both produce less than a million litres of alcohol a year.

But Diageo’s extensive whisky portfolio covers production capacities ranging up to facilities where 12 million litres of alcohol are produced a year.

The company has said it is also working with suppliers, in order to reduce its “indirect emissions” by 50 per cent by 2030.

Over the same time frame, the firm said every drink it produces will require 30 per cent less water to make than it does today.

Ewan Andrew, chief sustainability officer and president for Diageo, said it was “vital” to “act now if we want to maintain the wonderful world we all live in”.

He said: “I’m proud that we have already halved our own carbon footprint and that we are going to push ourselves further by becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”

Ivan Menezes, Diageo’s chief executive,  said: “As a global business, we are committed to playing our part to protect the future of our planet and to leading the way for others to follow. I am immensely proud of Diageo’s sustainability and responsibility achievements to date, and this new, ambitious action plan will challenge us even further to deliver more over the critical decade to 2030.”

An important component in some whiskies, including some owned by Diageo such as Lagavulin and Caol Ila - used in Johnny Walker blends - is peat.

As the world’s peatlands are under increasing threat from industry and climate change, there has been increased focus on the climate impact of its extraction - which is mostly used for horticulture.

Scotch production used to lean more heavily on peat as a key fuel for heating malting barley to stop the germination process before it is used to make whisky. Now maltings only rely on peat as a means of flavouring some malts.

A Diageo spokesperson told The Independent the peat use of the entire Scotch whisky industry equates to less than 1 per cent of the total peat that is extracted in the UK annually.

“Nevertheless, we take the use of peat very seriously and we are working continually to reduce the amount we use by increasing the efficiency of our processes.”

As part of Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary in 2016 the company worked with the RSPB to fund the restoration and conservation of 280 hectares of peatland on Islay - the island most closely associated with peated Scotch.

The firm also said over the next decade it was “taking further action on peatland conservation”.

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