Creating a Sustainable Industry

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How has Morag Garden contributed to turning the Scotch Whisky Association into a sustainable industry?

Morag Garden is the Scotch Whisky Association’s Head of Sustainability & Innovation, a role she took up in 2007. Her career began, and has always remained, in the environmental lobbying arena working with a number of industry bodies.

Her career started in Scottish Water covering a range of roles from Laboratory through to Environmental policy. She has also taken a number of secondment opportunities during her career, including a year with the Scottish Government developing Diffuse Pollution policy. She was delighted to move from water to whisky 8 years ago and to be working for Scotland’s most exciting and first truly sustainable industry.

She moved to Edinburgh for University and has only ever been away for brief periods. She is a jack of all trades when it comes to hobbies; from climbing and walking, through to softball.

Environmental Strategy

Scottish whisky is very much a product of the natural environment. It is iconic, it is recognised globally and it is made only from 3 raw materials – which are water, cereals and yeast. This means whisky production relies on fertile land, rainfall and high quality water supply.

To order to protect these vital resources the Association has always believed in sustainability. They take their environmental responsibilities seriously.

The environmental strategy, developed in 2009, is a clear signal to their collective and bold ambition in their environmental priorities. The strategy itself sets challenging voluntary goals in important areas for the sector, their stakeholders and more importantly for the environment. The strategy is split into four areas each with targets which are split between 2020 and 2050.

1. To reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions

The aim is that, by 2050, 80% of the industry’s primary energy will come from non-fossil fuels – such as anaerobic digestion and solar power. They also want to continue to improve their energy efficiency; which will be in line with the regulatory climate change agreement set by the Government.

2. Responsible Water Use

Water is a priority for them as it is a key ingredient of whisky. As a result, it is important for the industry to optimise it’s water use, making it as efficient as possible. The industry target is to generate a 10% reduction in water usage.
They also have some other goals to think about the holistic catchment wide and other regulatory legislation that is driven by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

3.Embracing a circular economy

Here the industry is looking at using all their resources for as long as possible and at the highest value that is possible.
This started with their four packaging targets;
– increasing the recycled content
– reducing the weight
– making sure everything is recyclable
– minimizing/removing any waste going to landfill

As part of this area they are also looking at the industry’s by-products. Currently the by-products are used in animal feed and recently have moved into energy use also. It is important for the industry to consider what else they can do to retain the value of their by-products as much as possible.

4. Sustainable land use

This is an area which is early in the Association’s thinking. It is there to start to allow them to have really robust and interesting conversations with their supply chains and key stakeholders. It is all about securing a high quality raw material – both with cereals and wood. For example this would include sourcing wood from sustainable oak forests for manufacturing new casks.

To the Scotch Whisky Association it is important to ensure that, as a sector, they are resilient and as such, will continue to be around for many hundreds of years to come.

Collaboration for the Big Vision

The strategy was initiated in 2009. An important element here has been collaborating with, and working with, their members. As an Association they are proud of the fact that, in terms of the strategy, the environmental area is non-competitive within the industry.

As a result, under the umbrella of the Scotch Whisky Association, this allows members and their companies to work together and share ideas. They also look at research together and learn from each other. This enables the sector to move forward on its sustainability journey.

The Scotch Whisky Association is made up of both big international multinational companies and small family-owned distilleries. This structure helps all of the members move forward – with innovative change being led by the large companies who have the resources to do so, and who are able to take on the risk in terms of considering what new technology could support them and the environment.

Then, through being part of the environmental strategy, other member companies, a few of whom may be more risk averse, will take up these technologies at a later date. This moves the industry towards their environmental strategy more quickly and more effectively.

Within their strategy, the Association has highlighted how they will be able to deliver on this program through the development of innovative research. This is via collaboration with universities and researchers, as well as with their supply chain and the Government.

Celtic Renewables (podcast number 9) is an example of this innovation. There also are many other examples, which show what they are already doing to help deliver the strategy target, in their 2015 progress report.

One of the advantages of having their environmental strategy is that they have set out all the key areas, in relation to the environment, that the industry needs to focus on over the next 10, 15, 20 years. Having this allows them to have conversations with all the people who are needed to help to deliver the strategy and to identify where they all need to work together.

Successes of the Environmental Strategy

In terms of successes, the Association’s 2015 progress report highlights case studies and all of the great work that has been done already. One of the major successes that they have had in the last five years is in terms of renewable energy. Some of their big sites have undertaken large investments into renewable energy plants and to neutralising their by-products to produce energy onsite, as well as to export it back into the grid. This also helps the Scottish Government’s achieve its renewable energy targets.

They have also done a lot of work on packaging. For example one company, who used to have metal tins as part of their secondary packaging, has worked with their packaging supply company and come up with an innovative new process called cold foiling. This is a technique enables them to retain a metallic finish on the packaging, but at the same time allows the packaging to be easily recyclable.

It is important to the Association to have an ongoing conversation to help deliver the environmental strategy. They know they are not going to be able to deliver their environmental targets on their own. Having that conversation in their annual strategy and progress report lets people know what has been done, where the current challenges are and what is next. This is part of the collaboration.

The Scotch Whisky Association and the whisky sector are fairly unique in the way they collaborate together and this is another reason they publish their progress widely. They want to inspire others in Scotland, in other sectors, to work collaboratively with the Government, the regulators and the investors to move forward on this sustainability journey together. They want to be advocates to others on how to develop an environmental strategy and very good business relationships the Governmental bodies and other stakeholders in the sector.

In their experience, this strategy has allowed them to have beyond compliance conversations with their regulators, and to move away from the perimeter of the operational site – which is dealt with by environmental regulation. This then allows them to focus on how they can help to change the world and support One Planet prosperity.

Now, alongside SEPA, they plan to go and talk to different sectors; providing them with an overview of what they have done, the challenges they have faced, what has been successful and what others can do.

Impact on Daily Life

For Morag it is the other way round; in that she has always had quite strong environmental principles which have led her into having a job which also follows these.

Morag tries to think about, and is conscious about, her carbon footprint wherever possible. In terms of commuting to work she cycles, walks or takes a bus. She also tries and takes the train for journeys. She loves having friends and family to come and stay in her flat; there’s only one rule in her flat – to recycle!

Nature Memory

Morag’s favourite nature memory was about 5 years ago when she was on the Aanach Eagach ridge. It is a famous traverse along the Glen Coe mountains, and is quite daunting (it is one of the most difficult ridges to climb in Scotland). It was a gorgeous day – beautiful t-shirt weather at the top of the hill – and she was there with friends. She felt such a real sense of achievement when she got over the ridge.

Morag thinks by going hill walking in Scotland, you can just get away from the urban areas, the cars and the modern technologies and everything and really appreciate the country you live in and the world you live in.

Takeaway from this episode

The power of collaboration and coming together to help solve global problems.

Morag Most Admires

James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia theory. She read his book in first year in university and thought it was amazing as it was so forward thinking and ahead of its time. Five years ago, she heard him speak at the Edinburgh book festival, which for her was a joy.

Morag’s Favourite Resources

Being inquisitive and always ask questions;
Morag has found that this helped her develop a good foundation for the Association’s environmental strategy – through talking with people; finding out what the problems are, what their concerns are and how the industry can work together on the solutions.

People mentioned in the interview

Mark Simmers from Celtic Renewables for commenting on the power of collaboration and developing technology for by-products.

“That conversation – letting people know what we’ve done, where our challenges are, where we’re looking next – is just part of that whole collaboration”Morag Garden
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