Can The Glenmorangie Co Lead the Whisky Industry to Greener Pastures?
The Glenmorangie Company has built the first whisky distillery to combat climate change, but does it do enough?
Scotland has not been immune to the effects of climate change. Since 1961, temperatures have increased by 1 degree Celsius, resulting in the growing season increasing by 30 days each year. Average annual precipitation rate has risen 27% since 1961. The combination of these effects has led to a rising yield in barley, a key ingredient of single malt Scotch whisky. Another key ingredient of Scotch whisky, yeast, is negatively affected by the rise in temperature, decreasing the yield. Such factors make climate change an important interest of whisky producers. Fortunately, the highly wasteful process of producing whisky gives its producers ample opportunity to do their part to reduce the human effects on climate change. In this, The Glenmorangie Company, producer of scotch whisky based in Tain, Scotland, has been an industry leader.
To address the challenges of climate change, Glenmorangie began working with Aquabio, a company a leading manufacturer of biologic water restoration, water reclaim, rain harvest, odor control and reverse osmosis systems. Aquabio had made a name for itself by introducing innovative ways to implement water recycling in a wide range of industries, such as food and drink, bio fuels, paper, landfill, and pharmaceuticals. Their task with Glenmorangie would be similar: to design and build the whisky industry’s first anaerobic membrane bioreactor system. Building such a system properly, though, would allow Glenmorangie to treat its wastewater produced by their distillery using natural biological processes. Further, building the plant would create energy in the form of methane rich biogas, thereby reducing the need for fossil fuels to run the plant.
In the summer of 2017, Aquabio did exactly as they set out to do by completing work on the Glenmorangie Ross-shire distillery in Scotland’s Northern Highlands. Their work successfully converted Glenmorangie’s largest factory to a low-energy anaerobic membrane bioreactor, or anaerobic digester (AD), plant. The distillery effectively reduces the output of wastewater by up to 95 percent while creating biogas, which is then used as energy. The biogas indeed reduces the need for the factory use of fossil fuels as the biogas is used to heat the stills (the apparatus that uses a boiler system to selectively evaporate values of the whisky that are of no commercial value, thereby increasing the alcohol content) in which the spirit is made. An unplanned benefit of the new plant is that the standard of the wastewater produced is improved as well. Also, as planned, the plant improves the quality of the diminished amount of liquid waste that is discharged into the Dornoch Firth, a coastal water located near the distillery.
Creating such a distillery has allowed Glenmorangie to protect the environment and limit its contribution to climate change for the next several years. To extend that effect for the medium term, Glenmorangie needed to ensure that its diminished sewage levels, high quality of sewage, and reuse of biogas. To ensure the long-term advantages of the plant, Glenmorangie had Aquabio automate the plant, allowing Glenmorangie to govern the plant’s actions remotely online.
While these measures set an impressive example for the whisky industry as a whole and drastically cut the damage Glenmorangie factory’s have produced, there is still more they can do. Although they have built the plant in a time when solar panels are more efficient than they ever have been, Glenmorangie has not taken any steps to replace their fossil fuels with energy from the sun. Further, while the plant has innovated the way that a whisky plant can run, it has not effectively shared these techniques and lessons learned with other whisky producers. To improve, they could establish a council for whisky industry leaders dedicated to reducing their negative impacts on the environment by sharing lessons learned and allowing scientists and researchers to visit each other’s plants to effectively learn how best to improve environmental operations.
While these steps would improve their footprint, do they do enough? Glenmorangie has decreased the amount of sewage it will pump into the firth, but is any amount acceptable? Are there different, important lessons to learn from other liquor manufacturers? Have beer distilleries figured out any methods of reducing their environmental footprint that might be helpful to Glenmorangie as it seeks to become more environmentally friendly?
Word Count: 716 words
 “The Effects of Climate Change”, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, 2017, https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/climate-change/the-effects-of-climate-change/, accessed November 14, 2017.
 “How Will Climate Change Affect Scotch?”, ScotchWhiskey.com, 2017, https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/features/13034/how-will-climate-change-affect-scotch/, accessed November 14, 2017
 “Environmental About Us”, The Glenmorangie Company, 2017, http://www.theglenmorangiecompany.com/about-us/environmental/, accessed November 14, 2017
 “Homepage”, Aquabio, 2017, http://www.aquabio.co/, accessed November 14, 2017
 “Industry First for Aquabio at the Glenmorangie Distillery, The MBR Site, 2017, http://www.thembrsite.com/news/industry-first-for-aquabio-at-the-glenmorangie-distillery/, accessed November 14, 2017
 “”Glenmorangie Appoints Aquabio to Design and Build New Wastewater Treatment Plant”, The MBR Site, 2017, http://www.thembrsite.com/news/glenmorangie-appoints-aquabio-to-design-and-build-new-wastewater-treatment-plant/, accessed November 14, 2017
 “Industry First for Aqauabio at the Glenmorangie Distillery”, The MBR Site, 2017, http://www.thembrsite.com/news/industry-first-for-aquabio-at-the-glenmorangie-distillery/, accessed November 14, 2017
Student comments on Can The Glenmorangie Co Lead the Whisky Industry to Greener Pastures?
I thought this was really interesting, because it’s a cool example of how even the oldest brands can revolutionize their approach using new technologies. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Aquabio continues and if they find a home outside of the relatively small market in Scotland.
While I certainly wish it would happen, I think the likelihood of distilleries allowing others’ researchers to come visit is quite low. Maybe instead as part of the suggested council they can put third-party audited numbers around their sustainability and their wastage, which would properly allow the whiskey manufacturers to compete against each other.
One of the interesting aspects of these industries is that everyone knows each other, so whenever one gets press for something positive it really spurs the others to action to catch up. Hopefully that happens here as well!
It is encouraging to see that distilleries are willing to invest in and embrace new technologies to help reduce their carbon footprints.
As mentioned, the beer brewing industry has issues with negative environmental impacts as well. England’s Purity Brewing Co. has in fact made recent efforts toward recycling water and steam byproducts back through the production ecosystem. Additionally, they are committed to reusing hops and grains by feeding them to livestock or even turning the waste into fertilizer for future crops. In industries so dependent on fresh raw inputs, recycling byproducts seems like the obvious first step. Water demand alone is likely to prove itself as the greatest challenge.
Interesting article which begs the question: why do companies really drive environmental changes in their operations? Is it because the savings in water are meaningful to profitability? Is it because consumers care and demand such change? Is it because governments force them to? It’s not clear to me why Glenmorangie is doing it. It could be that Glenmorangie is looking for a way to hedge against the increases in water prices that could impact profitability in the future. In that case, their decision not to share best practices with their competitors make sense: why try something new (which could fail) if your competitors can try it and give you the lessons?
Your question about whether Glenmorangie should be producing its own renewable energy is an important one that applies to many companies who have a long-term interest in becoming more sustainable to combat climate change. It might not be the most efficient move for Glenmorangie to buy and operate its own solar panels. Perhaps it would be better off buying renewable energy or renewable energy credits from a larger-scale, more efficient renewable energy operation (could be wind or others, not just solar) than doing it in-house. While there is nice symbolism for companies to produce their own renewable energy, perhaps the investment dollars that they would need to spend to produce the renewable energy themselves would go further in reducing carbon emissions if they “outsourced” renewable energy production by buying it elsewhere or buying credits, which is the motivation behind a system like cap and trade.
Thank you for writing such an interesting article—I was happy to learn about a scotch distillery taking proactive action to address climate change. I was especially fascinated to learn that Glenmorangie actually partially benefits from the effects of climate change with more harvesting days and an increase in barley yields.
Furthermore, I also found it interesting to learn that Glenmorangie is adversely affected by global warming mostly due to its impact on yeast; however, the actions taken by Glenmorangie do not directly address this issue. Like fdelabalze, I am curious to learn more about exactly why Glenmorangie decided to hire Aquabio to start a water-recycling program. Was the motivation to make a statement about the need to reduce human activity resulting in global warming since Glenmorangie’s yeast is affected? Did Glenmorangie want to be the trailblazer in the scotch industry to start a trend in hopes of inspiring other distilleries to also reduce their carbon footprint? Or, more cynically, did Glenmorangie just note a huge cost savings by reducing its reliance on fossil fuels? Regardless of Glenmorangie’s motivation, I am happy to see more companies making efforts to reduce usage of fossil fuels.
Now that I’ve read this interesting article, I am also inspired to want to learn more about companies like Aquabio too. It appears there is now a growing market for sustainability-conscious consulting firms to help companies like Glenmorangie make more economically-friendly changes. I am curious to learn more about how the sustainability trend can actually result in more job creations.