From grain to glass: addressing Scope 3 emissions

The carbon footprint of the drinks industry extends beyond the brewery and distillery gates. While direct emissions are often under scrutiny, the indirect Scope 3 emissions, particularly those associated with agricultural supply chains like barley, wheat and hop cultivation, tend to be overlooked. With growing demand for transparency and sustainable practices, addressing and mitigating these Scope 3 emissions is vital to meet global climate change targets.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) final report on Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign, stated that over 53% of the companies surveyed found that Scope 3 is too much of a challenge and a barrier to setting net-zero targets. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scope 3 emissions account for over 80% of total emissions in whisky production, presenting a significant challenge for the industry.

For many alcoholic beverages, a large proportion of emissions stem from the production of grains or other raw materials, constituting Scope 3 emissions that are difficult to reduce due to their extensive value chains. While agricultural Scope 3 emissions are inevitable, efforts should focus on minimising their impact to tackle climate change and build resilience, while supporting farmers and preserving biodiversity. Whisky production for example is dependent on farming, making it vulnerable to climate change impacts on our environment and landscapes.

Regenerative agriculture is often touted as a solution and encompasses principles already ingrained in best practices on many farms. SAC Consulting's Dr Lorna Cole provides a comprehensive overview in her blog post. The lack of a universal definition creates an opportunity for a holistic approach that aligns with nature to promote sustainable food production. Although regenerative agriculture highlights a more sustainable and resilient approach to farming, technological advancements have a considerable role to play in reducing emissions across the Scope 3 value chain, low carbon, fertilisers, smart irrigation and precision agriculture in general. The amalgamation of old (regenerative agriculture) and new (technological advances) will help to deliver emissions reductions and removals across the agricultural value chain.

Insetting, a rising trend, involves companies improving value chains to minimise Scope 3 emissions and yield additional benefits, demanding collaboration across sectors to ensure mutual gains for farms, consumers and society. However, it's crucial for companies creating the emissions to invest in emission reductions/removals as the burden cannot be placed solely on farms themselves. Mere promotion of green credentials without substantive actions risks green-washing.

Research by FAIRR assessed the commitments representing approximately a third of agri-food companies in a recent study. While the majority of them mention regenerative agriculture initiatives, only a third have quantified targets for regen, 16% had discussed metrics and baselines and only 8% have targets to financially support farmers to deploy regenerative practices. Showing a gap between words and action and emphasising the need for benchmarking and verification to ensure tangible benefits.

We have reached a point where targets have been set, Scope 1 & 2 emissions are being dealt with by most progressive companies, the next step, and likely the most challenging, will be taking effective action across the value chain. Despite this challenge it is essential that companies take the leap from targets to action on Scope 3 if we are going to effectively reduce our impact.

Our recent collaboration with Diageo is an example of how we can help to put this in to practice. Get in touch if you want to discuss and explore opportunities at

Posted by Iain Boyd on 24/05/2024

Tags: SAC Consulting, Climate and Environment, Agriculture
Categories: Sustainability | Natural Economy | Consulting and Commercial