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Dunnet distillery celebrates Earth Day with new environment manager

By David G Scott

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Global warming is the hot topic this Earth Day and a Caithness company proudly wears its heart on its sleeve with the appointment of a new staff member.

Dunnet Bay Distillers – which produces the award-winning spirits, Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka – has appointed Sarah Lyons to a newly created position of environment manager, underlining the company's commitment to sustainability.

The family-owned distillery prides itself on its environmental credentials and has ambitions to further improve its sustainability. The company is proud of its Dunnet coastline and gardens from which botanicals used in the products are foraged or grown.

Dunnet Bay Distillers has appointed Sarah Lyons to a newly created position of environment manager.
Dunnet Bay Distillers has appointed Sarah Lyons to a newly created position of environment manager.

Sarah is not new to the business and has been in charge of finance for the past five years. She has a degree in mathematics and oceanography and, whilst she has enjoyed her finance work in the past, this is her dream role. She said: "I've always longed for a career in the environmental sector and I am delighted to have been given the opportunity."

Claire Murray, a director and a co-founder of Dunnet Bay Distillers (DBD), said: "It is unusual for a company of our size and scale, employing fewer than 20 people, to have a full-time, senior staff member responsible for sustainability. We are excited about this new role and believe Sarah is the perfect candidate given her passion for the environment and her knowledge of the company.

"It was the logical next step for us as we are always striving to ensure that we remain environmentally conscious. To our knowledge, we are the first company to have created recyclable refill pouches which can be returned by Freepost to ensure re-use of our stylish ceramic bottles".

Claire and Martin Murray with Mr Mackintosh the dog at Dunnet Bay Distillery.
Claire and Martin Murray with Mr Mackintosh the dog at Dunnet Bay Distillery.

In her finance role, Sarah has often noted a link between "doing the right thing" for the environment and saving money but recognises that is not necessarily the case. "I always look to make small changes as well as larger ones," she said.

"For example, we are transitioning to using paper tape instead of plastic tape on boxes. This isn't the cheaper option but it's the better option. It is sometimes these little things that count. We are aiming for zero waste going to landfill but being in such a remote area means that recycling can sometimes be difficult and costly."

Sarah and the DBD owners, Claire Murray and Martin Murray, have taken the initiative of working towards Planet Mark certification. The priority will then be to develop a long-term strategy to support decarbonisation, waste initiatives, and the circular economy.

Eighteen months ago, sustainable, recyclable pouches were introduced and form the central platform of the DBD's subscription service – the Refill Rewards Club. Members receive the refill pouch of their choice on a regular basis; they refill the collectable "bottles for life"; can return the empty pouches by Freepost with no envelope needed; and, in return for their loyalty, receive a goody box with their refill each time.

The company will be looking to minimise its energy and water use, as well as monitoring all waste. Already, food waste is composted and used in the distillery gardens and the botanicals used to create the Rock Rose Gins and Holy Grass Vodka are sent – with permission from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – to a local farmer to benefit agricultural land. For much of the year, water taken to heat the stills is abstracted from the burn and returned, completely clean, to that same stream.

DBD is self-reliant regarding energy. The distillery's solar panel system has generated 74MWh since it was installed. In 2020, it generated 22MWh – more than the 18MWh required for distillery production, heating, and the distillery shop.

Ensuring the coastline is pristine is important to DBD's team. The firm's staff is to be incentivised to take part in regular beach clean-ups, starting today on Earth Day. Sarah says: "We will be starting a year-long challenge collecting plastics and other waste found on the shores near here. It's not just the large, obvious pieces of waste such as single-use bottles for which we'll be combing the beach, but smaller particles, too, as these microplastics are often ingested by seabirds and marine animals".

The Rock Rose Gin Citrus Coastal Edition was recently launched in celebration of the north Caithness coastline where the company is situated. It incorporates a mix of botanicals that is sustainably foraged from the seashore and plants cultivated in the distillery's own garden.

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