Is it important that your drinks brand is sustainable?

Being environmentally aware and having concerns about climate change are no longer for a small specialised group of the population alone. Protecting the environmental future of our planet has become a mainstream topic that is in the consciousness of most people. More and more people are looking to make their own personal contributions to the global environmental agenda by considering their consumption habits and actively considering the environmental credentials of businesses they look to engage with.

Business sustainability is the practice of operating a business without impacting the environment negatively and is something most big drinks brands are setting an agenda to. Diageo have just opened their first carbon neutral distillery; Belvedere have opened a biomass facility that will reduce CO2 emissions by 95% by 2022; and Suntory this year have invested more than US$1 billion in their sustainability plan. Whilst the big players in the drinks industry are shifting their focus to address these environmental concerns, should all drinks brands be considering their sustainability?

In June 2019, the UK government became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by targeting net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Net zero means any emissions would be balanced by schemes to offset the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using technology like carbon capture and storage.

With the government backing an agenda to become more sustainable, this is likely to be an issue that gets more attention over the coming years. As Millennials and Generation Z become the main consumers in the market there is also likely to be a further focus on sustainable brands as it appears that with every generation the quest for sustainability strengthens. The newer generations are not only keen to see environmentally friendly brands but are willing to pay more for them too. If brands don’t look at their corporate environmental impact, they may endure a descent in popularity as time goes on.

Foundation Earth is currently overseeing an eco-labelling trial in UK supermarkets where each item is given an A* – G rating and a red, amber or green rating according to the size of their ecological footprint. Consumers are already so much more familiar with checking labels for allergens, and sugar content, so it seems logical that this new initiative could follow and become mandatory for all products.

So, what can drinks’ brands do to become more sustainable?

Use renewable energy sources

Some brands have started to look into using renewable energy sources at their distilleries. For example, distilleries in Jura and Islay are looking into using tidal power from turbines placed between the islands. Eden Mill’s Distillery in Scotland have plans to open a climate positive distillery next year that uses a biomass plant and field electricity to power sills. North Point Distillery have a bespoke 500 litre direct-electric still mostly powered from their onsite wind farm and The Lost Explorers use solar panels to power their distillery.

Look to reduce waste

Toast Brewery work with bakeries and sandwich makers to use surplus bread in their brewing process. Served use wonky fruit in their hard seltzer to contribute to the reduction in food waste and 12 Acres use by-products from their brewing process as compost on the farm and to feed their animals resulting in zero solid waste. The Lost Explorers turns agave waste into fertiliser and The Discarded Spirit Co. is using banana skins that are usually dumped by the fruit industry to make rum.

Use environmentally friendly packaging

Bacardi have created a plant polymer-based bottle which biodegrades after 18 months without leaving behind microplastics. A traditional plastic bottle can take up to 400 years to decompose. Mexican brand Mijenta’s label and box are made of agave waste, with all packaging elements purchased from local businesses in Mexico. The Lost Explorers bottles are made from more than 50% recycled crystal scraps, while its stopper is made from natural wood. Avallen uses eco-friendly packaging, with its label made from apple pulp and Mc’Nean use 100 per cent recycled clear glass, which reduces the bottle’s carbon footprint by 40 per cent.

Support additional environmental causes

Served give 5% of all their profits to environmental projects. Lost Years rum give funds from every bottle of rum sold, to save sea turtles around the world. Gray Whale Gin donate 1% of all their sales to help restore wild fish stocks, which, in turn, helps save the whales and Novo Fogo Cachaca have their own reforestation program that, to date, has resulted in the planting of almost 500 native, endangered trees and the registering (and protecting) of 88 bird species who use those trees.

Off-set carbon footprint

The Lost Explorer replants at least three agave plants for each one used. Sapling Vodka plant a tree for every bottle sold, and a unique code on each bottle lets you know exactly what tree was planted and whereas a result of your purchase. Johnnie Walker has pledged to plant one million trees across Scotland by 2025 as part of its commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.

Use local products to reduce the environmental impact of shipping ingredients

Warner’s gin is made using water from the farm’s own spring, botanicals from its gardens and fresh honey from its beehives. 12 Acres beers are brewed using barley which is grown on their own farm, and spring water which is taken from deep beneath the same land and add no artificial additives, preservatives or treatments. This also aligns with the call for more transparency in identifying origin and the presence of ingredients in drinks. Asia and the US are particularly rigorous in their need to understand the processes and ingredients involved in a product before it reaches the market.

Sustainability isn’t just a consideration for the UK market. Most countries around the world have increased their focus on the environment. In Europe particularly, consumers are more aware of making environmentally savvy decisions on the back of the government agendas. Denmark has long put sustainability on its agenda and have some of the most efficient policies on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Switzerland are increasingly requiring eco-friendly and resource-friendly products. France has several environmental initiatives in place, such as using hydro turbines along its rivers and banning its supermarkets from throwing or destroying good quality unsold food and Germany have released a number of policies to increase their eco-friendliness.

The environmental agenda really is a global one that more and more consumers are getting behind, so in whichever market a brand is looking to find consumers in, corporate environmental impact is something that all brands should consider if they want to remain relevant in today’s market.