Management Briefing

Sustainability in Spirits - Part II: Energy

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As with water efficiency, energy efficiency can vary markedly from distillery to distillery depending on the size of the facility and the production methods employed. As a general rule, however, the production of spirits is an energy-intensive process.


Moreover, unlike with water, where the majority of the total footprint is in the supply chain, the most sizeable impact on energy and carbon emissions comes from the distillery itself. 

According to data published by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), based on a generic grain recipe comprising 79% corn, 13% barley malt and 8% rye provided by BIER members, the distillation process accounted for 36% of the total carbon footprint of a 75cl bottle of spirits produced by column distillation. The bottle was the second largest component in the carbon footprint representing 20%. Agricultural raw materials represented only 12.3%. For pot-distilled spirits, the distillation process accounts for as much as 40% of the footprint, according to the BIER research.

Therefore the major spirits producers' efforts to increase energy efficiency and drive down emissions in their production facilities will have a significant impact on their product's total carbon footprint as well as the specific profile of their production facilities.

Improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions

Diageo believes it is "on course" to achieve its stated target of reducing carbon emissions from its operations by 50% by 2015 against a 2007 baseline. The company recently reported a reduction of 9.4% in carbon emissions for the past year and a 22.0% reduction from the 2007 baseline.

Head of environment communications and policy Michael Alexander points out that this is an absolute figure rather than an efficiency ratio. "This is an absolute figure whereas many report an efficiency reduction. So 9.4% is a pretty outstanding performance given that we've increased production."

Bacardi set a target of a 12% improvement in energy efficiency by 2012 against a 2006 baseline but has achieved a 27% improvement, according to global technical director Stuart Lowthian. In its 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report, Bacardi stated that its greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity - the quantity of GHG emissions per unit of production - had fallen by 31% over the previous five years. The company is to incorporate a greenhouse gas emissions goal into its next set of environmental targets, to be unveiled in early 2013.

Pernod Ricard's corporate scientific advisor & representative for sustainable development, Patrice Robichon, tells just-drinks that the company has met - though not exceeded - its declared target of reducing energy use (kWh per litre of pure alcohol) by 10% by 2012, measured against a pro forma 2008 baseline.

Pernod is also soon to unveil new environmental targets. Robichon expects the new targets to be published "probably by the end of the year", and says they will include goals on water efficiency, energy, CO2 emissions and waste. 

The set of targets announced by Brown-Forman as part of its Environmental Sustainability Roadmap for 2020 includes both an emissions and energy consumption goal, with the company aiming to reduce both energy use per unit and GHG emissions per unit by 30% by 2020, against a 2009 baseline. Tim Nall, director of environmental performance & governmental compliance at Brown-Forman, says the company remains "very confident" in its energy and emissions goals.

As detailed in the first chapter of this briefing, Beam Inc has not yet published any specific percentage targets on environmental criteria. However, the company is carrying out a review of three years of global environmental performance data with a view to establishing a global baseline performance level and identifying potential global reduction targets. Given the actions of all its major competitors and the company's stated commitment to environmental sustainability when it launched as a stand-alone entity last October, it seems likely that it will announce explicit reduction targets in the relatively near term.

Renewable energy and waste-to-energy conversion

Key to reducing carbon emissions over the long term is the introduction of renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind power. Moreover, while the high levels of organic waste created during the production of spirits may in some ways represent a sustainability challenge, there is a significant opportunity for energy generation via anaerobic digestion (AD).

An anaerobic digester creates biogas from waste materials using bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. The biogas produced can be burned to create steam to power the distillation process and, in some instances, is used to make electricity to meet other energy needs at the production site.

Bacardi began researching and was granted patents for AD as early as the 1980s, and built its first anaerobic digester at its Puerto Rico distillery in the early 1990s. Today, approximately 50% of the energy requirements at its Puerto Rico facility are provided by AD.

Diageo has also been an enthusiastic adopter of AD technology. In 2010, the company invested some GBP17m (US$27.6m) in a bio-energy plant at its Roseisle distillery where 50% of the total energy demand is now being met by on-site renewable energy generation. Diageo has also invested GBP65m in the development of a bio-energy plant at its large Cameronbridge grain distillery which will come into full operation during the course of the coming year.

In September 2011, Diageo submitted proposals to Moray Council for a GBP6m bio-energy plant at its Glenlossie distillery complex on Speyside, which is projected to save around 6,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Diageo states in its most recent Corporate Responsibility Report that "finding innovative sources of renewable energy is a key part of our carbon reduction plans". Michael Alexander highlights an initiative at its Gimli distillery in Canada, where Diageo's Crown Royal brand is produced, as making a particularly significant contribution to the company's carbon emissions reduction over the last year. An agreement to purchase green biomethane gas from a local landfill facility has reduced fossil fuel carbon emissions at the distillery by more than 99%.

Tim Nall says AD is "always under investigation" as a possible energy source at Brown-Forman. However, he adds that there may be more potential for AD at its Louisville unit as production increases, than at its Jack Daniel's distillery where all organic waste from the distillation process is already sold to the cattle feed market.

Meanwhile, in Cognac, AD is undertaken collectively by a company called Revico, which is jointly owned by Cognac producers. Another collective initiative is now underway in Scotland. Bacardi has partnered with Helius Energy and various other whisky producers, including Edrington, grouped together as the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRDe), in the development of a GBP50m waste-to-energy facility which is expected to go into operation in 2013.

Bacardi has made strong progress on increasing its use of renewable energy since 2006, says Stuart Lowthian. "In terms of renewable energy, our aim was to double the proportion of our energy from renewable sources from 6% to 12% and actually we've done even better, we've gone to 19%, so we've more than tripled the proportion of energy from renewable sources."

Last year, Pernod reported that the overall share of renewable energy in its energy mix was 9%, 7% of which was electricity and 2% biogas, wood and other renewables. In 2010/2011, the share of electricity from renewable sources at the group's sites totalled almost 42%, against 30% the previous year. At that stage, as many as 17 of its manufacturing units were being supplied only with 'green' electricity. The company's sites in Walkerville, Canada, Behror, India, and Thuir in France all convert liquid effluent into biogas, while its Martell Cognac distillery sends organic waste to Revico for treatment.  

For part three of this briefing, click here. Part one can be found here.

For the full table of contents, click here.

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