Independent Scottish whisky distillery Nc’Nean claims it has become the first in the UK to reach net zero emissions for production, beating the Scotch whisky industry target of 2040 by 20 years.

Leading the way in what will be Scotland’s biggest year for sustainability, the whisky distillery’s 2020 carbon footprint is the first in the UK to be verified as net zero. Nc’nean’s carbon footprint is verified by Environmental Strategies, confirming that the few emissions that result from its production is less than the amount of emissions which have been removed from the atmosphere.

Nc’nean founder Annabel Thomas said: “This feels like our greatest achievement so far. From the moment we started out on this adventure, there have been plenty of people who told us that using renewable energy would be too hard and that organic barley would be impossible to work with. Many even said that using a 100% recycled glass bottle just wasn’t the done thing in premium spirits!

“I am incredibly proud of our small team, who have put their hearts and souls into overcoming all of these barriers to create a delicious whisky with the lowest possible footprint – and 20 years ahead of the industry’s target!”

“But this is just the beginning. In a year where Scotland is hosting COP26 and sustainability is such a hot topic, it is my hope that our work will inspire others in our industry.  We want more companies to look at their mode of operating and make improvements where they can, as we will also be continuing to do across our business.”

Nc’nean’s Head of Sustainability, Amy Stammers, said: “Sustainability has been at the heart of our mission since inception and it really is at the core of everything we do. Working to produce our first full carbon footprint has been tough but rewarding, and it is my hope that others in the industry will follow in our footsteps and publish theirs too. It is only by measuring emissions that companies can really focus on reducing them. There is still more to achieve.”

Net zero status has been accomplished by powering Nc’nean with 100% renewable energy, and offsetting the remaining few emissions through partner Highland Carbon. The distillery uses woodchip from a commercial forest two miles from the distillery to power its biomass boiler, which in turn heats its copper stills – all trees are replanted. The small amount of electricity that is used is 100% renewable and verified zero carbon, supplied by Bulb. The residual carbon emissions have been offset via a sustainable forest planting project with a verified carbon standard hallmark.

The brand is also bucking the industry trend of using ‘extra-flint’ (super clear) glass for premium spirits. Nc’nean whisky is bottled in a 100% recycled clear glass bottle which reduces each bottle’s carbon footprint by a staggering 40% and reuses raw materials in line with the circular economy – another tick in the box for conscious consumers.

But Nc’nean’s sustainability credentials don’t stop with carbon emissions. The distillery is certified organic and only sources organic Scottish barley for its whisky production. Nc’nean believes biodiversity is key to a healthy planet and is resolute that regenerative organic agriculture is the best way to increase biodiversity, protect water, sequester carbon, and improve soil health.  

This ethos is evident throughout the business with its commitment to zero waste – 99.97% of waste is recycled or reused. Leftover barley (draff) is fed to the cows on the farm. Specifically designed to use 80% less water than a traditional distillery, Nc’nean’s cooling water is continuously recycled via a natural cooling pond, which means the distillery can use the same water over and over without the need to use energy to cool it down, or chemicals to keep it clean.

Nc’nean is a shortening of Neachneohain – a huntress, known as the Queen of Spirits in Gaelic legend. Nc’nean chose her to represent them as she is a protector of nature and not afraid of walking her own path, which the distillery claims is much like the brand – made by nature, not by rules.

Nc’nean said it will continue to “quietly rebel against ‘the rules’” of Scotch whisky production. It recommends serving its single malt whisky with soda and continuously experiments with new ways to create interesting flavours in its spirits, from yeast experiments to the production of its Botanical Spirit.