Scotch Whisky is made of just three raw materials – water, yeast and cereals – but it requires plenty of care and skill to produce and mature to consistently high standards.
It relies on a clean natural environment and over the years the whisky industry has emphasised how it does its bit to protect the planet. Back in 2009, the Scotch Whisky Industry Environmental Strategy was launched, the first of its kind covering an entire Scottish sector. The strategy was refreshed in 2016 to include a focus on such activities as peat restoration. And last year a new Sustainability Strategy was set out which saw whisky producers set a target of net zero carbon emissions from their direct operations by 2040.
To achieve its sustainability ambitions, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the trade body, says it is working with the industry to boost relevant skills - including those described as ‘green skills’ - among the industry’s current workforce and for the next generation of employees.
Kirsty Summers, SWA head of workforce and skills, explains: “‘Green skills’ is a really interesting term. The Scotch Whisky industry is looking at skills that will help businesses remain sustainable and resilient. It’s also considering how things like technology can be used to make production even greener in the future, and what skills people will need as a result. This can apply equally to people who have been in their roles for some time as to those entering the industry.”
She adds that the Scotch Whisky Industry Sustainability Strategy impacts the type of skills that are needed now and in future as the environment increasingly lies at the heart of business activities.
“The industry is very focused on the future and how to bring green skills into their businesses. Green skills are fundamentally changing the nature of recruitment and the type of training that’s required,” says Summers. “And in education, universities, for example, are focusing a lot on green skills in such areas as engineering and science. Graduates and graduate apprentices are therefore developing these skills.”
As well as technology evolving to meet the need of reaching net zero over the next few years, employees themselves have a vital role to play when it comes to sustainability, according to Summers. She says: “People need to feel empowered when it comes to implementing green skills so they can be on the sustainability journey with their businesses and don’t feel that there is a risk of being left behind. Employers need to help green skills flourish within their companies so their people can work creatively and productively. And such skills are relevant across the whole range of functions in the Scotch Whisky industry, from marketing to procurement and HR.”
She says that green skills are now being embedded into careers in Scotch Whisky and are becoming more integral in various job roles. She believes job candidates can create a competitive edge for themselves by embracing sustainability.
Summers concludes: “I believe it’s fairly well-recognised that Scotch Whisky is really trying to lead the way on sustainability and there are many exciting things happening across the industry. Scotch whisky is a product that takes a long time to make, so it’s great to see that producers are being really forward-thinking on sustainability. They are increasingly becoming front-runners when it comes to green skills.”
Kirsty Summers is speaking at The Scotsman Green Skills Conference on 4 October – https://www.scotsmangreenskills.co.uk/