A landmark rail freight facility will bring leading producer of natural source water, Highland Spring Group, one step closer to its net zero goals.
Think of spring water in the UK and there is little doubt that Highland Spring will come to mind. The Perthshire-based natural source water business is currently the UK‘s number one brand with annual sales volumes of still and sparkling water in 2021 now over 348 million litres, and the Highland Spring brand’s share of the total UK plain packaged water volumes sitting at a healthy 10%. It is also Britain’s leading exporter of water worldwide, providing healthy hydration in over 30 countries across the globe.
Its current position as the UK’s leading natural source water brand is testament to the vision and foresight of its founders when the family-run business launched in 1979; a time when the entire market for bottled water was less than 30 million litres a year.
The company has remained under the ownership of the same family ever since, and the all-important decision to ensure from inception that their land was protected and free from any kind of pollution, pesticides or habitation, continues to serve them well.
It was this trailblazing strategy that meant Highland Spring was the first natural source bottled water brand in the UK to have its catchment area certified as organic by the Soil Association, and it has been named the leading ethical bottled water brand by The Good Shopping Guide for the last 14 years. Crucially, the early adoption of environmental principles has gone on to shape the brand in its entirety.
In 2021, Morwen Mands, the company’s first Head of Sustainability, was appointed to deliver a long-term sustainability strategy
“As a company, we have always been fiercely protective of our land and water source.“
which comprises an impressive roadmap of initiatives that the company has laid out to ensure it meets its net zero target by 2040. “Environmental leadership is at the heart of everything we do at Highland Spring Group and, as a company, we have always been fiercely protective of our land and water source.
“Understanding the important role we can play in accelerating sustainability efforts as a leading UK business is a responsibility we take seriously. Our strategy aims to create a positive impact for people, society and the planet and help future-proof the business.
“We are committed to reducing absolute scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 90% from a 2019 base year and reaching net zero emissions by 2040. “To help us achieve this, we’re working with Carbon Intelligence to develop an emissions reduction roadmap and have committed to setting both near-term and long-term science-based targets.
“We are aiming to be one of the UK’s first natural source water companies to have a validated target in line with Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) Net-Zero Standard. “Our goal is five years ahead of the Scottish Government’s proposed 2045 target, and 10 years ahead of the UK Government’s deadline.
“In addition, later this year we will publish our first Business Responsibility report which will bring-to-life our corporate activities which are focused on supporting our people, society and the planet.”
As a national and global supplier, it will come as little surprise to learn that transport is responsible for around 30% of Highland Spring’s carbon footprint.
Therefore, Morwen and her team are focused on a key milestone for the Group this year, the opening of a new rail freight facility in Blackford, which will become Scotland’s first dedicated rail freight distribution line by a private company in over a decade. The facility will deliver product from their production lines to their external warehouse in Daventry daily.
Working in partnership with Network Rail, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government, this ambitious 10-year project, which has been in the making since 2012, is due to open in August 2022. The new facility will reduce the Group’s environmental impact by removing 8,000 HGV movements from the road and will save 3,200 tonnes of CO2 every year.
“The rail freight project is an excellent example of the power of partnership working between the rail industry, government and business which will provide wider benefits to the Scottish environment and economy.
“As well as the obvious reduction in carbon emissions, the project is also bringing benefits to the community at a local level. Being a considerate neighbour is a priority for the Group and we are committed to continuing to maintain strong relationships with the local Blackford community. We’ve engaged with the community every step of the way, sharing plans through the Community Council and inviting feedback as we go.
“The original plans for the site used an existing rail connection at the eastern end of the site, however, this would have resulted in the level crossing being closed for a prolonged period when the train accessed and exited the site causing disruption to local traffic flow.
“A revised design was developed with Network Rail for a new rail connection at the western end of the site which provided multiple benefits for the local community and improved the operational efficiency of the facility.”
Their good neighbour policy has also seen a mindful approach to design, which is reported to have been ‘sensitively created to minimise noise and visual impact.’ And, in addition, the rail contractor Story upgraded the path to the village cemetery which has been gratefully received by the community.
“The facility has been designed with long-term goals in mind. The Scottish Government’s target to decarbonise the railway by 2035 will see the electrification of the mainline, allowing us to move to electric trains at the same time.”
Closing the Loop
Highland Spring Group’s state of the art production line in Blackford can fill at speeds of 73,000 bottles per hour, using some of the fastest and most technologically advanced machinery in the UK.
Upgrades to its plant over the years have reduced energy consumption by up to 30%. Exploring new sustainable packaging formats, and reducing the amount of packaging the business uses, remains a central part of its sustainability strategy.
“Innovation is crucial to business development and we were the first major water brand to launch a bottle made from 100% recycled PET plastic (cap and label excluded) which along with the rest of our bottles is 100% recyclable.
“We are on a journey to reach 100% recycled PET plastic across our entire product range (excluding caps and labels) by 2025 and move closer to creating a truly circular economy in the UK whereby no plastic is wasted and this valuable material stays ‘in the loop’.
“We welcome the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) which is due to go live in Scotland in August 2023. We have been heavily involved in discussions both as a leading natural source water producer, and through our industry association, the Natural Source Waters Association, and are a founder member of Circularity Scotland, the Scheme Administrator for the Scottish system.
We see DRS as crucial to increasing recycling rates, reducing litter and increasing the availability of good quality recycled materials for us to use in our products.
“Consumers will pay a 20p deposit on bottles and cans between 50ml and three litres in size and this deposit will be refunded to the consumer when these are taken back to return points for recycling”.
Land and Water Stewardship
To support their organic certification for the catchment area in The Ochil Hills, Perthshire and their commitment to land and water stewardship, Highland Spring appointed their first ‘Guardian of the Source’, a role that is held today by the Group’s Head of Technical, Alex Haken. Alex and his team ensure the land and water source are protected 365 days a year to make sure every drop of Highland Spring
water is as pure as nature intended.
“Water is one of the planet’s most valuable resources therefore we only harvest 3% of the rain that falls on our catchment ensuring its long-term sustainability as a water source.
“This matters, because as well as protecting our source, it is our responsibility to support and encourage wildlife on our land. We’re currently working with Forth Rivers Trust on a biodiversity programme to support healthy eco-systems and increase the flora, fauna and wildlife on our land by 2025.
“As part of this, over 50 volunteers, including employees, helped to plant over 2,000 trees on the catchment earlier this year and we hope to involve local schools and residents in future tree planting activity. Planting of trees and shrubs helps with natural flood management and provides an all-year-round food source, and shelter, for a variety of insects and mammals.
“The rain that falls is naturally filtered over many years through the rock to depths of up to 300 feet before making its way to our bottling plant and into bottles in its natural source condition.
“We are incredibly proud of the care and attention we take in bringing our water to consumers and we know they trust the brand, the purity of our spring water and our heritage. We celebrated our 40 year anniversary recently, and our business journey will continue to have environmental sustainability at its heart, to help us deliver further growth for the brand and business into the future.”
Highland Spring core products have remained the same since the first bottle was produced in 1980 – still and sparkling natural source water. The brand strategy is focused on meeting evolving consumer needs and new consumption occasions.
Brand investment and innovation saw two new Highland Spring products launched into the market in 2021 – flavoured sparkling cans and a 10-litre Hydration Pack which has been recently joined by a new 5L fridge pack. The business will continue to drive forward its long- term strategy to invest in and develop innovative products which provide healthy hydration in an environmentally sustainable way.