Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Fermentation for beverage alcohol generates CO2 as a waste product, which is a primary greenhouse gas. Compressed CO2 is also widely used to purge hose lines, tanks and other vessels. It’s also used to carbonate beer before packaging. Producers are implementing a number of methods to trim CO2 emissions and reduce their carbon footprints
Heineken’s revamp of the Goss brewery is a prime example. Daily, it produces 1.4 million bottles of carbon-neutral produced beer, and is helping to achieve Heineken’s commitment to a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions from production by 2020.
“We have already met our 2020 goals for GHG here in North America, but we remain focused on further improvements,” comments Harris. The North American region leads Diageo’s business in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with two major distilleries fueled exclusively on renewable energy/biogas.
Since 2006, Bacardi rum production has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 48%. The company-wide goal is to cut GHG emissions by 50%.
Offsetting carbon footprints is another strategy. It is estimated that one tree absorbs 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in its lifetime. McCormick Distilling Co., maker of 360 Vodka, planted indigenous trees on 40 acres of the land around the distillery. Brooklyn Brewery partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 375 acres of trees, which will offset 1,500 tons of CO2.
“Reducing waste to landfill can result in being compensated for recycling, or eliminating waste streams altogether, both of which contribute favorably to the bottom line,” remarks Harris. Diageo’s global goals target achieving zero waste to landfills by 2020.
At New Belgium, “we divert 99.9% of our waste materials from landfills,” says Wallace. At McCormick, spent grains are dried for use by local farmers as animal feed. “There is almost no waste produced in the creation of 360 Vodka,” says Hale.
Brooklyn Brewery also recycles its spent grain as animal feed. And the brewery repurposes retired barrels as furniture in its tasting room.
Little changes can add up. In honor of World Water Day, Bacardi ceased the use of plastic straws and stirrers in cocktails served at visitors’ centers and in-house corporate events. Bacardi estimates its efforts will keep 650,000 straws and stirrers out of landfills each year. “Already, one-third of our manufacturing sites have achieved ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’ status,” says Torruella, and globally no more than 0.5% of the total waste is sent to landfills.
Like other components of beverage alcohol, packaging has an environmental footprint. And the amount of eco-impact of the various choices is not always clear.
Cans are lighter than glass bottles, which means that shipping costs and carbon footprints are less. However, aluminum cans are made from bauxite, which itself has environmental challenge. Glass bottles, on the other hand, are made from readily available silica sand. Water and energy are expended in the making of both containers. And both are usually made partly from recycled materials. However, the heavier bottles are more expensive to ship to recycling centers. Plastic containers are also an option, but not yet wholly accepted in the U.S. market.
Spirits producers have been shaving grams off their bottles to make lighter, less-expensive and better containers. Bacardi, for example, plans to reduce the weight of its packaging 10% by 2017, 15% by 2022.
McCormick’s 360 Vodka touts its unique swing-top closure; the bottle is designed for reuse by consumers or for rebottling. The bottle is made of 50% recycled glass and labels are printed on recycled paper using eco-friendly inks. For each swing-top bottle returned, the company donates $1 to local charities and eco-friendly organizations.
Diageo’s global 2020 goals include reducing total packaging by 15%, while increasing recycled content to 45% and making 100% of packaging recyclable. “We are also working to sustainably source all of our paper and board packaging to ensure zero net deforestation,” says Harris. In North America, the company is working to eliminate PVC from packaging. The goal is to be PVC-free by December 2017.
One packaging innovation is the edible six-pack ring set debuted recently by Saltwater Brewery. Made from reprocessed spent grains, the can holders are 100% biodegradable. And, according to brewer Peter Agardy, they won’t pose a hazard to seabirds and marine mammals.
Getting the Word Out.
Just as important as these sustainable initiatives, it is critical to get the word out to consumers.
“We share our Good Spirited stories through our corporate website and brand and corporate social media channels, as well as via our brand events,” says Torruella at Bacardi. “From the responses we receive on our various initiatives, we know consumers care. Protecting our natural environment is everyone’s responsibility.”
“Consumer expectations about sustainability and corporate responsibility are increasing,” says Christenson at BIER. “It is more important than ever to tell your story and be more credible with consumers.”
Thomas Henry Strenk is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with over 20 years experience covering the beverage and restaurant industries.