Can Alcohol be Sustainable?

Isla Stubbs discusses alcohol brands and how they’re making headway to be sustainable businesses.

Image Credits: mibryant

As a student it is difficult to avoid the drinking lifestyle that comes with being at University; however, it is often overlooked when we talk about becoming more sustainable. Manufacturing and selling alcohol is often an unsustainable and poorly managed practice. It takes approximately 298 litres of water to make just one litre of beer, and the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine is estimated to be around 1,200g (equivalent to driving 3 miles in a small car). I know what you might be thinking: ‘Are you really going to start preaching to a bunch of students to stop drinking alcohol?’ No – what a waste of everyone’s time that would be. Instead, I hope to shed some light on alcohol brands that are leading the way in sustainability, and some little ways in which we can adapt our own drinking habits to help the planet. 

Brewdog

I can’t talk about sustainable drinking without first mentioning Brewdog, which has become an increasingly popular craft beer brand since it was founded in 2007. In 2020, it became the world’s first carbon negative brewery, and aims to become the most sustainable drinks brand by so far having released 3 sustainability reports. Here, you can read more about their carbon reduction plan which involves anaerobic digestion plants, electric vehicles, carbon capturing during the fermentation process and the use of wind farms. They have recently begun their project “Lost Forest” in which they have purchased a 9,308 acre plot of land in the Scottish highlands with the aim to reforest the area and restore lost peatlands. 

Not only are Brewdog looking to reduce emissions as much as possible, they are also aiming to reduce waste. They have recently revealed that in 2022 they will be releasing a new vodka called Bad Beer Vodka which will be created from distilled beer that would otherwise be wasted (usually because of bad batches). This will then be packaged in a paper bottle with a natural and biodegradable lining on the inside. And as if it couldn’t get any better, Brewdog has invested £1 million in research to help improve sustainability within the beer industry. 

Corona

Before 2020, if you heard anyone talking about Corona you’d think they meant the popular Mexican beer brand; oh how things have changed. However, in my searches for sustainable drinks Corona is definitely one of the cheapest options out there. Back in 2018, Corona partnered with an environmental charity called Parley for the Oceans to help protect the world’s oceans and beaches from marine plastic. In 2021, during world’s oceans week, the company announced that they had officially become the first global beverage brand with a net zero plastic footprint – it recovers more plastic from the environment than it releases.

They have recently come out with packaging produced from waste barley, using 90% less water than production using wood, as well as eliminating the need for using virgin trees and raw materials, and instead putting waste products to good use. They still have a long way to go to becoming a sustainable company but they are showing great promise. 

Image Credits: dannyphoto14

Sapling

If you prefer spirits to beer then don’t worry I’ve got that covered. Sapling is a spirit company that produces both vodka and gin, and plants a tree for every bottle bought! Unlike some poorly managed tree-planting schemes, this one allows you to see which species are planted where and you can find exactly where your tree is on their tree-tracker. Sapling also works with Wildfarmed to use their organic regenerative wheat to ferment their base spirit. Wildfarm prioritises soil health and helps to increase its biodiversity by using its pasture cropping system which you can read more about here.

Reducing waste is another one of Sapling’s sustainable aims, and at bars and restaurants they sell their spirits in 5L boxes for bulk purchases, allowing them to reuse bottles or just pour drinks straight from the tap on the box instead of recycling them which in turn reduces glass bottle production. 

Arbikie Highland Estate

Arbikie is an up-and-coming brand hoping to become one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries. They grow all of their ingredients on their estate, vastly reducing their carbon footprint, and primary waste products are used as cattle feed or natural fertiliser. Their highland cows, which they keep on the estate, are a key part of their regenerative farming as waste products are consumed and returned to the field as fertiliser. 

They have recently released their Nàdar collection – the world’s first carbon negative spirits made from peas, with a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle for the gin and >1.53kg CO2e per 700ml bottle of vodka. This company is committed to their sustainability, and did their research before choosing peas, working out that they are the ideal choice because they require no nitrogen fertiliser due to their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Credit: bzwei

I have highlighted just a few of the many brands committed to becoming more sustainable, however as you would expect, some of these are more expensive than your standard bottom-shelf vodka. If you can’t afford these brands there are still things you can do! Where possible, buy locally to reduce the carbon footprint of your alcohol as much as you can. My next tip is to drink cider! This is because, in general, it is believed to be the most sustainable type of alcohol in the U.K. largely because of the fact we can produce our own apples which vastly reduces importing ingredients and decreases food miles. My last tip is to recycle; almost all alcohol comes in recyclable packaging (usually glass or aluminium cans) so all you need to do is pop it in the recycling instead of the regular bin.

So, now dry January has come to an end, why not try starting drinking again in the most sustainable way you can. 

About the Author: Isla Stubbs (she/her) is currently in her 3rd year studying Environmental Science at York. She is currently on a placement year working full-time as a Terrestrial Ecotoxicologist in Cambridge. 

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