Is whisky sustainable? Three distilleries discuss


With the climate crisis showing no signs of slowing down, industries across the globe are brainstorming innovative new ways to limit their impact on the environment. ‘Is whisky sustainable?’ is a question consumers and industry stakeholders alike have begun to ask themselves. 

In last year’s World Whisky Day weekender session, representatives from three young distilleries – all less than six years into production – explained the actions they are taking to make their operations greener. In this blog post, we’re providing a recap on their actions and how they’re becoming closer to producing more sustainable whisky.

Nc’nean, Scotland

Nc'Nean Whisky

Amy Stammers, Visitor Manager at Nc’nean Distillery says her distillery’s resources have been key to achieving a lower carbon footprint, alongside consumer awareness.

“While we don’t have the barley and raw materials onsite, we do source organically. We also have our own spring water and we have cattle that can take the draff. I think that’s pretty common in the industry to have animals close or nearby that can take waste products. We’ve been able to build in sustainability from the beginning, which I think has helped us a lot on the road to achieving net zero.”

“Supply chain is a big thing and sourcing as locally as you can is important for us. Asking questions of supplies, like where do you get your materials from and do you have any idea how much energy you use? There is a question of whether or not consumers are being influenced by sustainability and their buying decisions and i think that also resonates within the industry. We have a responsibility and we are buyers of products and services and its our job to influence others.”

“Scotch is known for being a premium product, and if you think about sustainability in its purest form, were looking at reducing packaging or taking it away or lightweight bottles and those things arent necessarily synionymous with a really premium product. So its almost about changing people’s perceptions of what is quality in a whisky – not just in how it looks and feels but what’s inside the bottle, too.”

Nc’nean website

Arbikie, Scotland

Casks at Arbikie Distillery

Built on a history of farming, Arbikie can be found on a family farm dating back over 400 years. Co-owner Iain Stirling explains how the rural setting has influenced the distillery’s sustainability potential. 

“The Field to bottle approach we adopted when we started was a very natural thing to do as the crops are outside, so it’s growing what we want to distill and then in terms of anything else we need we can grow them in polytunnels. Everything is there and it’s just about continuing that journey. It’s a case of evolving all the time.”

“We’ve been growing a lot more legumes, particularly peas, so as a farmer, with my farming hat on, getting that free nitrogen fix works really well as obviously soils are incredibly important.”

“One of the upsides of us doing rye whisky is that we now have rye casks, so now we can put that back into the cycle by using the casks to mature our single malt whisky. So things like that evolve by design. We’re also growing oak trees just now, but its a 50 year long-term project, which hopefully can be used to make casks, or do something differently, or just leave them in the ground. They’re there as part of our natural environment, and putting something back.”

Arbikie website

Cardrona, New Zealand

The team at Cardrona Distillery

Only in their fifth year of production at the time of the session,  Cardrona distillery’s youth is a driving factor behind its sustainable set up. Head Distiller Sarah Elsom expands.

“Because we’re still new, we had these opportunities in setting up and choosing a location where we could make a few sustainable decisions, but there’s still so many we could make. Location is so important and the proximity to water. We happen to be on a farm, so the draff truck comes up to the side of the building and takes the draff off to the cattle and deer on a neighbouring farm.”

“We take tours and as always it’s a joy when people understand the bulk of our water use, although high, is mostly borrowed. It’s not coming into contact with spirits so it can be returned to the river or the spring or the original supply it comes from. It picks up  heat energy so it can be used that way, for example in our underfloor heating to keep us warm in the winter.”

Cardrona website