THE Scotch whisky industry has declared distillers large and small are taking major strides towards making operations more ­environmentally sustainable.

The third report on the ­environmental strategy launched by the sector in 2009 has revealed the industry is reducing ­greenhouse gas emissions, ­burning less fossil fuel and cutting packaging waste.

Compiled by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), which manages the strategy, it shows the sector is closing in on its target of sending zero waste to landfill, with only 5% sent last year.

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It highlights progress made on greenhouse gas emissions, which have been reduced by 10% since 2008 - in spite of production increasing by 10% to meet rising demand around the world.

It also notes an increase in renewable energy use - to 16% last year from 3% in 2008 - as distillers invest in renewable technologies.

Diageo, owner of Bell's and Johnnie Walker, has invested in a biomass plant at Glenossie and an anaerobic digestion plant at ­Dailuaine, while the Tomatin Distillery was the first to install a wood pellet-fuelled steam boiler to reduce carbon gas emissions. Pernod Ricard has introduced an electric car fleet to cut emissions.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, director of operational and technical affairs at the SWA, said: "At a time when the industry is growing its ­distillation capacity in Scotland, green investments are at the heart of companies' commitments.

"Renewables projects in ­particular have caught the ­imagination of the Scotch whisky industry and have attracted ­multi-million pound capital investment. The industry is committed to sustainability and will continue to work to meet its environmental targets."

The SWA said there are areas where operations could be greener. A spokeswoman ­highlighted efforts by Edrington to reduce the weight of premium packaging, and said access to ­recycled glass is also a priority.

She said: "In overseas markets, in places like China and South America, they want really good packaging, so you have to meet customers' expectations that way, at the same time as meeting our environmental targets.

"It does take a lot of work and balancing to reach both aims."

Although the major distillers have greater resources with which to invest in meeting environmental targets, the spokeswoman insisted the strategy is supported by producers "across the board".

Meanwhile, transporting whisky by train could feed into the industry's environmental blueprint in future. A two-month trial earlier this year saw whisky barrels transported by rail from Speyside for the first time in 30 years to ease congestion on the A9.

The spokeswoman said: "The funding was available for a short-term trial and we are now looking at the results. There are a lot of logistical challenges to look at in moving spirit on to trains.

"At the moment it does not really much feed into the environmental strategy in terms of targets, but longer term it could."

Commercial operations began in July at a biomass plant that generates electricity for the national grid and produces liquid animal feed from the by-products of distilling. The £60.5 million Helius CoRDe plant in Rothes, Speyside, is a joint venture between renewables specialist Helius Energy, the Combination of Rothes Distillers (Cord) and Rabo Project Equity BV.