AS one of the largest industry sectors in Scotland, food and drink has long been a leader across a raft of disciplines, from advances in new product innovation and packaging to marketing and establishing export markets. It’s a dynamic industry, too, with a £15 billion turnover and more than 119,000 employees.

Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, the industry refuses to shy away from its vision for future growth, and industry leadership organisation Scotland Food & Drink is continuing efforts to work towards its Ambition 2030 vision, where the target is to double the size of the country's food and drink industry to £30 billion turnover by 2030.

Of course, size isn’t everything and that vision also centres around creating a sustainable industry. And, like other key industry sectors, food and drink recognises its responsibilities when it comes to the climate emergency and the urgency of the task in hand as it strives towards net-zero emissions.

That’s why Scotland Food & Drink has now launched its Greening Your Business toolkit to provide practical support for SMEs in reducing the overall environmental impact of their business in a way that conserves the Earth’s resources, but also makes their business more efficient and reduces costs.

The toolkit equips food and drink companies with everything they need to tackle the climate emergency in a way which is positive for businesses, and outlines the pivotal role Scotland’s food and drink industry has to play in reducing carbon emissions and helping reach the Scottish Government’s target of net zero by 2045.

Produced by Scotland Food & Drink with support from the Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland, the toolkit is designed to provide practical support to help food and drink businesses reduce their carbon footprint while still improving their bottom line.

Within the toolkit, business will find small changes to get started, long-term ideas for making processes more efficient, signposting for funding and one-to-one advice, along with key guidance on new legislation.

As John Davidson, Scotland Food & Drink’s Strategy and External Relations Director explains: “The Greening Your Business toolkit is a fantastic aid for Scotland’s food and drink businesses and something we are very excited about. By going greener, businesses have the ability to cut their bills, make their business more resilient, win new customers and contracts, tap into post-pandemic consumer trends, and become an employer people want to work for.

“We have an opportunity to not only be leaders in sustainable and climate-friendly food and drink production, but also attract investment, financial support and future customers for the Scottish food and drink sector.

“The opportunities are there for Scottish food and drink businesses to become more sustainable and this toolkit can help businesses grasp them.”

The Greening Your Business toolkit offers timely guidance, publishing ahead of COP26, the UN climate change conference that takes place in Glasgow in November. This will be first time a COP summit has met in the UK and the event will be one of the largest Scotland has ever hosted.

So, why does climate change matter? James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink, says: “Climate change matters to the world, to Scotland and the people you sell to, raise money from or employ. It also matters to your business.

“The good news about going greener is that it can help your bottom line. For most SMEs, costs and return on investment are major concerns – especially now, after the Covid-19 pandemic. By tackling your food waste, energy use or water use, you could cut your bills. At the same time, you could make your business more resilient, win new customers and contracts, tap into post-pandemic consumer trends, or become an employer of choice.

“You could also help Scotland stage a green recovery, and meet its targets of reducing emissions by 75% by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2045. This guide will help you do all of that, with practical advice on everything from longer-term ideas for making your processes more efficient to post-Covid guidance for the manufacturing sector. All this information could make a real difference – not just to your business, but to Scotland and future generations.

“However, while tackling the climate emergency is an imperative, it is important to recognise the opportunities that lie within that mission. Food and drink businesses in Scotland have much to gain from going greener. It means cutting costs as well growing our reputation as leaders in sustainable and climate-friendly food and drink production. It will aid us in attracting investment, financial support and future customers. It will ensure we are leaders in Scotland’s green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The International Panel on Climate Change said we have just 12 years to get on a pathway to avoid breaching 1.5 degrees of warming. The businesses that step up to this task will see benefits many years sooner than that and can accelerate their own growth. The opportunities in going greener are there for businesses of all sizes.”

The Greening Your Business toolkit also includes information hear about the “circular economy” which centres around moving away from a throwaway culture and making things last longer – through product design, new business models and processes, or a change of mindset. So, while it’s about reducing waste, it’s also about creating new revenue streams.  

Circular economy opportunities will differ from business to business, but in the food and drink industry these could involve leasing equipment rather than purchasing it, or involve turning waste or low-value by-products into a higher value revenue stream. 

Examples within the toolkit include Breadshare, a community bakery based in Edinburgh that has created a new revenue stream by turning unsold sourdough bread into breadcrumb product for sale in its shops and through wholesalers. 
In Aberdeen, start-up The Crafty Pickle Co rescues unloved surplus produce and turns it into fermented food products. In its first three months, it saved around 50kg of produce. 

In Orkney, Swannay Brewery was losing more than 5,000 litres of beer a year during the casking process, which involved filling casks manually by hose. Installing a cask racker has saved the brewery nearly £10,000 a year. When the casks are emptied, the last swills of beer are added as a nutritious extra to local cattle feed.

SCOTLAND Food & Drink is an industry body which facilitates and enables government and industry to work side by side. 

With over 450 companies as members, the organisations co-ordinates a partnership between key industry organisations representing every sector of the industry, alongside leading research institutes, the Scottish Government and its agencies.

Scotland Food & Drink is working towards Ambition 2030, which aims to double the size of the food and drink industry in Scotland to £30 billion in turnover by 2030.

The organisation exists to nurture, support and champion the people and products of Scotland’s food and drink industry to help deliver continued success by assisting the sector in achieving its commercial ambitions.

Overseas food and drink exports from Scotland are worth £6 billion, over £2 billion of which is sold to the European Union.

Retail sales of Scottish food and drink brands across the UK are nearly £2 billion, over £500 million more than in 2007.


Whisky remains Scotland’s largest export, followed closely by seafood


The retail value of Scottish food and drink brands in Scotland is about £590 million, up 27% in the last 10 years.

93% of visitors to Scotland dine out, spending nearly £1 billion per year in the process, with 81% of Scotland’s long-haul visitors trying local food.
Whisky is Scotland’s largest export followed by seafood, which is sold to over 100 countries – within this Scottish Salmon is both the UK and Scotland’s biggest food export.

Scotland Food & Drink's partners include Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Dairy UK, Food and Drink Federation Scotland, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), NFU Scotland, Opportunity North East, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Seafood Scotland, SEFARI, Scotch Whisky Association, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), Scottish Development International (SDI), Scottish Bakers, Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Scottish Government and the Scottish Salmon Producers' Association. (SSPO).


Branching out into Fairtrade led to success for coffee firm

MATTHEW Algie, a Glasgow-based coffee roaster, sells his product to shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and businesses across the UK and Ireland, and also offers coffee machines. 

As pioneers of Fairtrade coffee, the company launched the UK’s first Fairtrade espresso blend, Tiki, in 1997.

Building on some of the milestones it has achieved in the past, Matthew Algie introduced its five-year plan (2017-2021), using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to shape its priorities.

The plan explains its commitments across its strategic pillars: sustainable sourcing of coffee and other products: reducing its environmental impact; investing in people: and engaging with its community.


As a Fairtrade pioneer, Matthew Algie is committed to the welfare of farmers in the coffee bean supply chain

Matthew explains: “Sustainability is, and always has been, an absolute core principle of how we do business. 

“Our approach starts with coffee and our commitment to be a dependable partner for the farmers in our supply chains, many of whom operate in environmentally, socially or economically challenging contexts.

“Our intention for our five-year plan is to deepen the impact of our work by setting meaningful priorities.”

The company has set robust goals across all its strategic workstreams. 

For example, its environmental goals include:

  • Reduce percentage of waste to landfill to less than 1% of total waste
  • Reduce net CO2 emissions per tonne of coffee roasted by 10%
  • Conduct at least one employee engagement campaign per year which reaches 100% of employeesReduce the amount of non-production water used per £1,000 of company turnover by 5%
  • Offset carbon emissions working with Forest Carbon

However, the firm points out that achieving true success in sustainability is often about partnerships and collaborations. for example, an energy audit by Resource Efficient Scotland led to its ongoing LED lighting rollout. 

Furthermore, a study into using coffee as a biofuel source came about through the Scottish Biofuel Programme, a collaboration between academics at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government.


Biscuit makers develop a taste for reducing waste

AS the toolkit outlines, aiming to reduce carbon emissions does not mean decreasing profitability. 

And any Scottish food and drink businesses are already implementing measures to improve their climate change credentials and in doing so are seeing a positive effect on their overall business.

One firm is award-winning Border Biscuits, a 35-year-old business based in Lanarkshire, supplying major customers across the UK and around the world. 
Its packaging has evolved over many years and has now been redesigned to reduce the amount of plastic by 90 per cent.

What’s more, this redesign will save 537 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions from the packaging manufacturing process and also reduce the number of vehicles needed to transport product by 50 per cent, further reducing costs and strengthening the well-known Border Biscuits brand – and the company’s reputation for environmental responsibility.


Border Biscuits' redesigned packaging cuts the use of plastic

Suzie Carlaw, Marketing Manager at Border Biscuits, points out: “Innovating to reduce single-use plastic has been a key focus over the last 12 months and our new packaging means we can address the environmental concerns of our customers without compromising on the high quality of our beautifully crafted biscuits.”


  • This article was produced as part of the herald's ongoing Climate for Change campaign