In the future, successful businesses will be those that minimise their use of water, materials and carbon-based energy, reduce pollution – and create little waste. Increasingly, it’s not just about complying with environmental legislation – but going beyond compliance in ways that improve business profitability and long-term viability. Some sectors in Scotland are already ahead on this journey – with Scotch whisky leading the way.

According to the annual ‘report card’ of environmental performance produced by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scotch whisky remains one of the nation’s highest performing sectors – achieving more than 90% compliance for the fourth year in a row.

This is great news for our national drink, which accounts for 70% per cent of Scottish food and drink exports and every second sees 39 bottles exported to more than 180 countries.

Of the 172 licences assessed in SEPA’s 2017 Compliance Assessment Scheme (CAS) for water abstraction, water discharges and effluent quality standards, 162 accomplished ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’ and ‘Broadly Compliant’ ratings, bringing the overall compliance to 94.19% for the calendar year.

The news coincided with SEPA’s launch of a new Scotch Whisky Sector Plan, which sets out a new vision for a sustainable future for Scotland’s no 1 export. 

“We’ve seen consistently high compliance for several years from the Scotch whisky sector – demonstrating that high environmental performance and prosperity are mutually dependent,” said SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn.

“Our Scotch Whisky Sector Plan sets out how we’ll continue our firm focus on long-term environmental success and look for wider opportunities across the supply chain, including in cereal production, transport, bottle manufacturing and packaging.”

Key achievements for the Scotch whisky industry have included meeting targets on the use of non-fossil fuels four years early.

Dagmar Droogsma, industry director of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the industry took sustainability seriously and added: “The launch of SEPA’s Scotch Whisky Sector Plan is a welcome step toward deepening the cooperation between industry and regulators to ensure targets are met.

“The Scotch whisky industry has more work to do to ensure responsible water use, but we are determined to drive up standards and continue to be an environmental leader and an example for others to follow.”

SEPA is also developing sector plans for industries including aquaculture and landfill. Aquaculture remains a prominent focus of environmental regulation, with non-compliant fish farms rising from 50 to 56 failing sites in 2017. This was due to a lack of monitoring or abstraction data being submitted on time by fish farm operators and an increase in farms failing due to effluent treatment issues.

“SEPA is firmly committed to protecting and enhancing Scotland’s environment and will shortly announce a revised regulatory regime that will firmly strengthen the regulation of the aquaculture sector and a comprehensive programme of public engagement across Scotland,” SEPA’s A’Hearn said.

“The regime will include fresh modelling using the best available science, enhanced site based environmental monitoring, a new approach to sustainable siting of marine cage fish farms, and new approach for controlling the use of medicines aligned with encouraging innovation in the containment of marine waste.”

Landfill also emerges as a sector where compliance remains a focus, with rates in the low to mid 80s for several years now. The 2017 score was 85.31%.

The number of facilities which remained non-complaint for two consecutive years increased from eight to ten, with odour complaints, management failings and the failure to submit data returns among key reasons for poor performance.

SEPA’s Landfill Sector Plan aims to help poorer performing sites improve their performance and support the sector as a whole as it faces the challenge of the Scottish Government’s ban on biodegradable municipal waste from 2021. It will also focus on developing innovation in areas such as the capture and productive use of landfill gas. 

“As the urgency to combat climate change increases, every business has a role to play in helping Scotland protect its environment and deliver stretching climate change targets,” A’Hearn said. “Under our One Planet Prosperity strategy, SEPA is committed to helping every regulated business fully meet their compliance obligations – and to help as many regulated businesses as possible to go beyond the compliance standards. Sector plans are at the heart of this – and we hope they will help regulated businesses operate successfully within the means of one planet.”


In association with ...

The Scottish Environment 
Protection Agency (SEPA)
A non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government oversees environmental regulation, monitors and reports on the state of the environment, raises awareness of environmental issues, and resolves environmental harms.

Zero Waste Scotland
A publicly-funded organisation working towards a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted. It attempts to influence and enable change by gathering evidence, supporting positive projects and providing technical advice and training.

Low Carbon Scotland
Organiser of conferences and events aimed at addressing the current carbon reduction position, enabling those leading and driving policies and proposals to share their vision, and highlighting Scotland as the best place in which to invest in low-carbon businesses.

Interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner? Contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137.

l The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.