Sustainability in our DNA

16 Sep 2015

Many of you will have heard talk of the 'circular economy'. They are popular buzzwords, but what do they mean in reality?

A definition is: "keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life".

That description sounds commendable, but you may well wonder how it works in practice. If so, the Scotch Whisky industry is an ideal place to start. The industry is built on sustainability, from the early days of farmers distilling surplus grain, to the use today of by-products to generate green energy. Such an approach is in Scotch Whisky's DNA - we have, in effect, always been 'circular'.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to share the Scotch Whisky industry's long-term commitment to good environmental practice at a Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS)-hosted seminar last week at the World Expo 2015 in Milan. Almost 150 countries are part of the Expo with the theme 'Feeding the planet, energy for life'.

The ZWS seminar was held in the UK Pavilion at the Expo which saw Scotland showcasing its food, drink, tourism and approach to the environment.

I took part in the panel session led by Richard Lochhead MSP, Environment Cabinet Secretary, who set out his thoughts on the circular economy and the policy direction for Scotland.  I explained how the Scotch Whisky industry uses by-products from distilling, such as draff, as animal feed, but also to power innovative renewable energy projects for the industry and the National Grid. It was a chance to highlight the SWA's far-reaching industry Environmental Strategy launched in 2009. Over the last five years, this collaboration has encouraged significant progress on reaching ambitious targets in a number of areas, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to cutting packaging waste.

Ian Smith, head of corporate relations in Scotland for Diageo, the world's biggest Scotch Whisky producer, was also on the panel and discussed some of his company's ground-breaking sustainability projects. Dawn Maskell of Horizon Proteins explained how distillery materials could be a valuable source of feed for fish farms in the future.

Our contributions highlighted how innovative the Scotch Whisky industry is in its approach to the environment. There was a good level of debate among the panel and audience. We quickly ran out of time in the seminar, so continued the discussions during the reception hosted by the UK Pavilion, where some excellent Scottish fayre, and of course whisky, was enjoyed.

After having shared my thoughts on the circular economy and heard about the excellent work of other sectors, governments and policy makers, I finished the evening off in the Piazza del Duomo with a gelato - when in Italy…

Morag Garden is SWA head of sustainability and innovation