The British multinational, responsible for at least 24 Scottish whisky brands including Johnny Walker, Bells, J&B, Talisker and Langavulin, failed to cut waste water contamination, climate emissions and landfill waste as it promised. The company, which made over £3 billion profit in 2014, also owns Guinness, Smirnoff, Baileys, and Captain Morgan.
One of Diageo’s most polluting plants - with some of the highest emissions of any industrial site in Scotland - is the Cameronbridge grain distillery at Leven in Fife. The plant’s carbon dioxide pollution has risen in recent years to a record high.
Environmentalists have attacked the company’s “shoddy” performance, alleging that it is damaging the clean image on which its whisky depends. Diageo argued, however, that its targets were “very stretching” and it had significantly reduced its environmental impact.
In 2008 Diageo set itself eight targets to achieve in 2015, aimed at significantly improving the environmental sustainability of its business. But its latest annual report reveals that it has only managed to meet one of them – improving water efficiency by 30 per cent.
The company’s biggest failure was its attempt to cut the pollution caused by waste water. It aimed for a cut of 60 per cent by 2015, but in fact only managed three per cent.
Globally, 60 per cent of the company’s waste water pollution comes from the Cameronbridge distillery. According to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), the plant discharged 9,600 tonnes of total organic carbon and 400 tonnes of phosphorus into the Firth of Forth in 2013 – higher discharges than any other site in Scotland.
Diageo has been trying to cut the pollution by investing in a new bioenergy plant, but getting it to work has “proven challenging”, the company said. Cameronbridge is also one of Scotland’s major climate polluters, alongside fossil fuel, cement and paper plants.
Sepa’s latest pollution inventory shows that the distillery belched out 134,211 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013. Emissions were the highest they had been for ten years, rising every year from 2009 to 2013.
Diageo’s global target was to cut carbon emissions 50 per cent between 2007 and 2015, but it only managed a cut of 33 per cent. The company also missed targets to reduce landfill waste, water waste and packaging weight as well as to boost recycling, though by smaller margins (see table below).
The Scottish Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, took Diageo to task for their failures. “A highly-profitable multinational really should be trying harder to do the right thing and minimise its environmental impact,” she told the Sunday Herald.
“It’s pretty shoddy that not only have they not met their own targets but that the pollution from one of their biggest sites is increasing.”
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, urged Diageo to try a lot harder. “It is supremely ironic that a company which trades on the clean image of the water it uses continues to be a major polluter of that very water, and has failed so miserably to meet its own clean up targets,” he said.
Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland, described the company’s failures as “extremely disappointing”. He added: "Particularly concerning is that its target to cut climate change emissions has been missed by such a large margin.”
Diageo pointed out that it was investing £100 million in renewable energy projects at distilleries in Scotland, including Cameronbridge. “In 2008 we deliberately set very stretching global sustainability targets - and we are very proud of the progress we made,” said the company’s sustainability director, David Croft.
“Overall we have significantly reduced our impact on the environment over a period when we have also grown our business with major acquisitions and increased production volumes. We remain absolutely committed to building on this progress and have set ourselves new, industry leading goals for 2020 which reflect our hugely ambitious plans for reducing the impact we have on the environment across our global operations.”
He added: “The bioenergy plant at Cameronbridge, Scotland’s largest distillery, is unprecedented so the application of cutting-edge renewable technologies has proven challenging. But we are committed to ensuring it delivers multiple environmental benefits.”
Diageo’s missed targets
target set in 2008 for 2015 / actually achieved
cut waste water pollution 60% / 3%
cut carbon emissions 50% / 33%
reduce waste to landfill 100% / 85%
reduce water waste 50% / 45%
reduce packaging weight 10% / 7%
increase recycled content of packaging to 42% / 39%
make packaging 100% recyclable / 99%
improve water efficiency 30% / 30%
source: Diageo annual report