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Responsible water use

Responsible water use
Find out how the Scotch Whisky industry will take care of this crucial ingredient, working to make its water use more efficient.

We're going to do more, with less

Whisky’s very name comes from water, deriving from the Gaelic ‘uisge beath’, which means water of life. And water is central to the manufacturing process, playing a part in product, cleansing, and cooling.  

We have ambitious but realistic targets in place to reduce water use across the industry. In an industry with hundreds of years of heritage, processes and practices have evolved across manufacturers. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why we are working with individual companies to enable continuous improvement.  

Our industry's Whisky Water Stewardship Framework, published in summer of 2023, is about more than reducing the amount of water we use. It’s also about wider catchment issues. Water quality, biodiversity, morphology of rivers and lakes, and responding to a changing climate. We can only do this through collaboration, working together with our partners, regulators and other water users.  

Amid a climate crisis when industries need to act to protect the natural environment, this new strategy demonstrates the commitment of the Scotch Whisky industry to maintain its position as an environmental leader.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

Learn more about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals here.

Reduce water use

Using water efficiently won’t just have environmental benefits. It’s a sound business decision. Water is one of the three raw materials used to make whisky. Distillers rely on a sustainable supply of fresh water, which makes effective water management absolutely essential for our sector.  

We’ve set a water use range for the sector: 12.5 to 25 l/lpa by 2025

This is a range, rather than a percentage target as we are being pragmatic. We know that our members face a number of unique challenges at particular sites. Distilleries with multiple processes including maltings may use more water than their peers. Whereas recently-opened distilleries may have water efficiency built into their design.

Our range gives our members achievable targets to aim for, and we will help them continue to move towards the lower limit. The range also means our members can highlight achievements at sites, enabling them to share best practices and examples on how to save water.

We will review the upper and lower limits of the range, making sure that we all endeavour to continuously improve our water efficiency.

Working together for change 

As with every part of our strategy, we can’t bring about change in isolation. We have to work closely with others to improve our water usage: 

  • We’re engaging with the Scottish government and key regulators in the industry to develop the right policy framework for our industry 
  • We’re partnering with universities and research organisations to learn and innovate 
  • We’re working with enterprises in the water-based sector to explore and harness new technology   
  • We’re mentoring our members to help them focus on achievable targets.  

What will the future hold? 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen warmer summers, with less rainfall. Flow has temporarily fallen in some of Scotland’s water catchment areas. A changing climate will affect water quality as much as quantity, making it more important than ever to manage our water resource carefully. Taking action now will ensure that distillers are resilient  and water is available for all, including Scotland's flora and forna for the decades to come.  

We will see more and more businesses within our sector and in the wider economy introducing ways to use water sustainably. And we look forward to working with the government and regulators to create a policy framework that protects Scotland’s water.  

What have we achieved?

Since the introduction of our strategy in 2012, water efficiency has improved by 22% across the industry. Many companies have introduced water monitoring and auditing and now carry out detailed site water audits. By understanding how water is used, they are identifying opportunities to save even more water in the future.

Water stewards

Developing a Whisky Water Stewardship Framework

Stewardship means caring for something on behalf of someone else. Looking after an asset that you do not own. That’s what we aim to do with water, protecting this invaluable national resource for every individual, every business and every creature that relies upon it.  

Our distilleries use water on-site. Yet our responsibilities go beyond this. We have commitments across the wider catchment area. We have to ensure the highest possible water quality in water catchment areas, the biodiversity of their environments and the continuing protection of water bodies as we experience climate change. 

Download the Whisky Water Stewardship Framework here

Four Tributaries, one journey

Our water use range shows that we are setting ourselves tough targets and judging our performance against them to drive change. The same is true with water stewardship. There are four parts to our ambition: 

  1. We will collaborate with regulators, NGOs and food and drink organisations to create a framework for water stewardship. We will focus on engagement. On influencing. And on action.  
  2. We will join the national conversation about how and where we can all use water responsibly. We will promote our own compliance with regulations to lead the way for other industries wanting to come on the same journey.  

We will also continue to be strongly engaged in the River Basin Management Plans, drawn up by Scotland’s Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to protect and improve the quality of an entire river system. And we will work closely with our members and the wider community to share what we have learnt and gain momentum to make the biggest possible difference. 

  1. We will offer support and guidance bespoke to our distillers. Each uses water in unique and distinctive ways, so we will respond to their individual situation, showing what makes for good water stewardship. 
  2. We will build up a resource of case studies to show how our distilleries and partners have surmounted obstacles to become responsible water stewards. This resource will act as a guide to demonstrate what is possible and inspire all our distilleries to get involved.