How Alcohol Impacts Our Environment

In 2017, Americans spent $234,380 M on alcohol alone, and this is steadily rising.

Alcohol is a staple to the lives of many Americans, serving as one of the largest industry in the U.S. Therefore, it matters which alcohol we choose to drink and the resulting environmental impact.

Beer accounts for 80.5% of alcohol consumption by volume, but only emits 62% of alcohol emissions. Wine volume, on the other hand, accounts for 16% of the alcohol consumption, but has an emission contribution of over 27%. Spirits (including whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, etc.) has a total volume consumption of 3.5% but an emission of 6.7%.

Tara Garnett, Co-author for the Food Climate Research Network.

However, different alcohol is consumed at different volumes (as describe in the Water Footprint article). The below charts show the interpretation of Tara Garnett’s research by accounting for serving sizes.

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As we can see from the chart above, based on serving size, alcohol emissions across the three types — beer, wine, and spirits — are about the same amount. However, major alcohol companies in the industries of beer, wine, whiskey, and vodka are beginning to make changes to reduce these emissions as well as correcting detrimental environmental effects from their companies.

Beer such as Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois created by Anheuser-Busch, CEO Carlos Brito, accounts for about 50% of the beer market in the U.S.

Because of its high influence in the beer market and significant usage of electricity, Anheuser-Busch has announced that their current $400 M expenditure on electricity will come from 100% renewable electricity by 2025. This initiative to expand recyclable content, improve water efficiently, and working directly with local farmers will reduce carbon emissions by a whopping 25%. What is especially important is that this market of affordable beers mostly effects working-class, white men in the mid-America, many of whom renounce human caused global warming. By impacting this specific market, Anheuser-Busch is drastically shaping middle America’s eco-consciousness.

E. & J. Gallo Winery, producer of Barefoot wine, the most popular wine brand in America, is also making great strides towards eco-friendliness.

Responsibility for energy and water consumption at E. & J. Gallo Winery became a priority since 2014. They won the Corporate Social Responsibility Award in recognition for their leading contributions towards water and energy sustainability. They reduced their energy consumption by 10%. Today, they are the leading force in the wine industry while maintaining their eco-cautiousness. In 2018 alone, E. & J. Gallo Winery sold $667 M worth of Barefoot wine in the U.S. and saved more than 11 M kilowatt hours of electricity since 2015.

Irish Distillers, producers of Jameson, the #1 whiskey brand in the U.S, are investing 20% of their funds to expand projects focused on using energy and water more efficiently.

They are requiring that the barley and malt used in their distillery meets the Irish Grain Assurance Scheme to promote environmental protection to safely grow and transport grain for their whiskey distilleries. In redesigning their Jameson bottles, they reduced the glass by 30% to save 435 tons of glass and reduce energy to produce them. Additionally, 98% of their bottles in Dublin are recycled at Dublin’s bottling plant. Through this amazing progress to reduce material waste and encourage recycling that waste, they won the Best Packaging Prevention Initiative in 2009.

However, some alcohol industries, like Tito’s Handmade Vodka, are not as progressive as Carlos Brito, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Irish Distillers.

In fact, Tito’s, the first Mad in USA Certified alcohol brand, faced many convictions and settlements for their illegal disposal of industrial waste. In 2003, the company was convicted of a misdemeanor and paid a $50,000 fine for disposing of oil down a drain at their shop. In 2012, the company illegally drained production waste into a creek in Austin. Their settlement resulted in a $50,000 fine from the state, $11,728 restitution for damaged properties of landowners nearby, and $1,120 for state sampling analysis of the creek. After facing $300,000 fine for their daughter company, Heartland Automotive Inc, they decided to make a change. They company spent $235,000 to improve and handle their industrial waste and storm water disposal appropriately.

As of today, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is working towards supporting relief programs for California Wild Fires and Hurricane Michael, matching donations of up to $25,000, and has developed the Vodka for Dog Program to help protect dogs and provide them with better living conditions. They are beginning towards the right track of that of their peers!

What we decide to consume on a daily basis has greater ramifications than we perceive. When it comes to alcohol, it is worth the time to take a few minutes and conduct some research! As always, live your values by drinking responsibly and taking care of the environment at the same time! Cheers!