Organic ingredients and ‘naked’ packaging: five ways to drink more sustainably

Whether it’s eschewing plastic, shopping organic or selecting seasonal produce, making sustainable food choices is getting easier. But what about when it comes to your choice of tipple?

Much like food production, not all modern methods of making alcohol are by default that sustainable. From the farming processes used to cultivate raw ingredients to the resource-intensity required for the production of some drinks, or the packaging and transportation of final products, there are many environmental potholes that make the journey to creating your Friday-night round potentially problematic. In fact, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable found that a single 750ml bottle of liquor produces 2.75kg of CO2.

As the climate crisis becomes more urgent and consumer demand for thoughtful products rises, many drinks producers are beginning to make more planet-friendly choices. Here are a number of things to look out for when browsing the booze aisles …

Think about the carbon footprint
The production of alcohol can use huge amounts of energy and often this is generated using fossil fuels. So brands that are switching to renewable energy sources in their production and supply chains are taking steps in the right direction. The whisky distiller Bruichladdich, for instance, has installed a circulatory heating system to recycle its hot wastewater, switched to 100% renewable electricity sourced within the UK, and is exploring various new ways to support its farming partners as they develop more sustainable agricultural practices. It is also due to install a green-hydrogen boiler as an alternative to fossil fuels – a conversion all the more impressive when you consider it will be powering Victorian-era machinery.

Pick planet-friendly packaging
Many producers of whisky and other spirits have historically used superfluous packaging to make the experience of buying a bottle more special, but this results in unnecessary waste. Naked packaging – bottles without outer tins or boxes – is the way forward. Look for brands that have invested in materials that are both recycled and recyclable, such as glass or FSC-certified cardboard.

Check the ingredients
Whatever goes into your glass at the weekend, chances are that many or most of its key ingredients started their lives as crops on a farm – and how they were grown impacts both the planet and the people working to grow them. Organic crops grown without chemicals are often better for the soil and surrounding ecosystems. Furthermore, a brand can’t be truly sustainable without paying its farmers and producers fair wages and guaranteeing safe working conditions.

It isn’t always easy to find out where brands are sourcing their raw ingredients, so your best bet is opting for businesses that are as transparent as possible. Lack of information on a brand’s website is a warning sign. Truly sustainable companies should report exactly how and where they are making their products and the conditions they are made under.

Choose community-led brands
As with food, buying alcohol from domestic producers goes a long way in terms of helping the planet, cutting back on those crucial air or road miles when compared with drinking something imported. Alcohol brands that grow, manufacture and then distribute from one place – zero-mile alcohol, as it were – also come with a smaller footprint. Bruichladdich makes its single malt scotch whisky on the island of Islay – it sources more than half of its malt from local farms, distils using traditional methods on the island and bottles the whisky there too.

Also consider how alcohol companies work with the communities in the places where they operate. Bruichladdich prides itself on being the largest private employer on Islay, and prioritises providing long-term rural career and development opportunities for the local community.

Look out for certifications
When you’re overwhelmed by the aisles of bottles, certifications can provide a quick shortcut to sorting the wheat from the chaff. B Corp is the gold standard when it comes to sustainable certification, so this is a good place to start. It takes into account a wide range of factors including supply chain practices, materials, employee benefits and charitable giving. In 2020, Bruichladdich became one of the only distilleries in the world to be B Corp certified.

Fairtrade is another logo to trust. This specifically relates to the production and supply of ingredients and to rights for farmers and workers, making it a good indication of a business’s values and outlook. When looking for organic drinks, the Soil Association is the go-to certification body. It has stringent standards when it comes to assessing organic credentials.

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