The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has published a water stewardship framework offering whisky distilleries research-based guidance to help reduce water usage and increase efficiency in their production processes.
Water is used extensively in the Scotch whisky industry across the production and cleaning process, and distilleries’ water use can vary greatly depending on capacity and location. It has proven to be one of the most significant battle grounds in the industry's fight against changing climate conditions, which in Scotland have included less rainfall in recent years.
As part of its Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2021, the SWA set a target range of 12.5–25 litres of water per litre of alcohol produced (l/lpa) for distilleries to reach by 2025, depending on their size and production output. The new framework focuses on three key areas: responsible water use, engagement and collaboration, and advocacy.
Previous data analysed by the SWA showed that water efficiency – measured in l/lpa – had improved by 22 per cent across the industry since 2012. The organisation said it would continue to gather data from across the industry to re-benchmark progress and set targets.
Ruth Piggin, director of industry sustainability at the SWA, said: “Water is a precious resource which is vital as both an ingredient for making Scotch whisky and a tool in its production. The water stewardship framework is an action-orientated commitment to the industry’s continued work to improve water management, and a serious acknowledgement of the importance of water to nature and the wider environment surrounding industry sites.
“The impact of the climate crisis is already being felt in Scotland’s water supply chain, and while distilleries manage this well, we understand that we have a duty of care to ensure our use of water is as efficient and responsible as possible. We’re committed to working closely with stakeholders including SEPA [Scottish Environment Protection Agency], government bodies, and other relevant parties to further improve the industry’s water stewardship.”
Nathan Critchlow-Watton, head of water and planning at SEPA, said: “Scotland may be renowned for its rain but, as we’ve seen already this year, it can be extremely vulnerable to periods of prolonged, dry weather and with climate change these are expected to become more frequent in the years ahead.
“It’s reassuring to see the whisky industry being proactive, taking their responsibility to help protect Scotland’s water environment seriously, and contributing to its long-term sustainability for all those who depend on it.”