Three Ways You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint when Imbibing Alcohol

Laura, setting a good example for all us by drinking wine from a can!

Participating in the modern economy is tough… As I’ve been doing research for this blog, more and more I’ve come to the conclusion that unfortunately, to be a human in the modern world is to create carbon emissions, many of which are unavoidable no matter how you modify your behavior. (Argh- it’s depressing…) Alcohol consumption, like most other activities, falls into this bin of behavior.

Emissions in alcohol production come primarily from carbon emissions generated in the process of growing whatever the fermented product is, energy required to produce the packaging for the final product, transportation emissions and refrigeration-related emissions. In general, a higher alcohol content beverage, like tequila or gin, will have higher emissions than lower-alcohol beverages like beer. I’ve found a number of estimates of the carbon emissions of wine and beer, and most of these estimates work out such that approximately one pound of CO2 emission are generated per serving of beer or wine (as always, assumptions abound in these calculations). In terms of emissions, as usual, we’re working with small numbers here: if I have 2 glasses of wine per week (that’s the number I tell my doctor), that’s about 100 pounds per year of additional CO2 emissions in my carbon footprint. So, realistically, compared to my flying habits, that’s a tiny, tiny contribution- way less than 1% of my total emissions (about 0.3% to be exact). So, I’m not going to count on making changes to my alcohol consumption habits to change my carbon footprint in any truly meaningful way.

BUT, as always, there are still more environmentally friendly ways to enjoy a nice alcoholic beverage. Here are some easy changes you can make:

  1. Buy local. With the wild explosion of local breweries, it’s easier than ever to buy local beer that hasn’t been shipped across state lines. Even better if you bring your own growler to the brewery for filling!
  2. Choose lighter packaging options. Shipping of glass containers is really expensive in terms of carbon cost, especially for wine. Prioritize buying canned beer (the cans are lighter and a more valuable recyclable!) over bottled, and buy canned or boxed wine.
  3. Research a few go-to brands whose environmental efforts you feel good about. Many breweries have a strong environmental ethos; here in Seattle, Fremont Brewing has a page describing their efforts to work on environmental issues and their investment in the city of Seattle’s Green Up program. If you have a couple of local brands you love, do some research into their environmental stance, and prioritize patronizing establishments that have some conservation measures in place.

Wine is trickier to assess, but there are a few new certification programs for environmental efforts, including SIP Certification, Live Certified and the Cali-Rules program. If you have a few go-to brands you buy over and over (this is totally how I buy wine- anyone else this way?), check if they’re certified by any of these organizations and consider switching up your mainstay wines if not. A few Trader Joe’s wines are SIP certified, and I was happy to find that one of my favorites, Bogle, is certified through the Cali-Rules program. While it’s not completely clear what you’re getting with these certifications in terms of carbon emission reductions, at least you know these wineries are following good agricultural practices.

One last note about wines; my cursory research does not suggest that any of the boxed wine companies sell wines that are certified by these environmental organizations. Sad…

Overall, the good news is that a few beers or glasses of wine a week isn’t going to shift the needle extensively on your carbon footprint; but I think it’s still worth considering making some easy choices to reduce the environmental impact of enjoying a glass of wine or beer.
P.S. Do you prefer cocktails? This article from Grist has a breakdown of the environmental impacts of different types of liquor.

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