New Research Models Carbon Footprint of Beverage Products

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), a coalition of leading global beverage companies collaborating to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage industry, announced yesterday that it has published new research on the carbon footprints of drink products across the European and North American markets. The research, presented in reports that include emissions calculations, secondary data sources, and impact analyses, looks at five beverage categories - beer, bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, spirits, and wine.

The reports' findings are based in large part on independent business evaluations, such as life cycle assessments and greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, conducted by BIER's 19 member companies. BIER's membership includes several major industry players like Brown-Forman, Coca-Cola, Ecolab, Molson Coors Brewing, New Belgium Brewing, and PepsiCo.

"The category models being released today are a good example of how companies can work together to promote environmental sustainability," said Robert ter Kuile, PepsiCo's Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability. "This research will help PepsiCo, our fellow BIER member companies, our customers, and the broader beverage industry to identify new opportunities for sustainable business practices that conserve resources, reduce emissions and protect the environment."

The research, which can be downloaded from BIER's website, identifies those facets of the beverage value chain that contribute significantly to a product's aggregate carbon footprint. GHG emissions from all product-related activities, from the extraction of raw materials, through manufacturing and distribution, to consumer use and recycling/disposal, are included in product-level carbon footprint calculations.

To calculate the carbon footprint of a single beer, for example, a near-byzantine variety of inputs and processes need to be considered and modeled. These include ingredients (malt, hops, water, etc); the packaging materials (glass bottles, aluminum cans, labels, fiberboard cases, corrugated trays, adhesives, wood pallets, shrink wrap, etc.); production and warehousing (brewery electricity, refrigerated warehousing, waste disposal manufacturing, etc.); transportation and distribution (road, rail, ocean, etc.); retail and consumption (in-store refrigeration and lighting, consumer refrigeration, etc.); and so on.

Certain processes, like the construction of capital equipment and the transportation of labor, are mercifully excluded from this calculus.

The research is also intended to evaluate the extent to which modifying certain material or production practices, such as packaging, distribution logistics, and recycling rates, affects the carbon footprint of a product. Returning to the example of beer, the research determined that malt is the leading contributor to a beer's total carbon emissions, accounting for over a third of the sum, while domestic refrigeration contributes to less than two percent of total emissions.

"As leaders in the beverage industry, we acknowledge our responsibility to transparency and commitment to advancing environmental sustainability of the sector through data collection and best practice sharing," said BIER's Director, Tod Christenson. "This research provides stakeholders with valuable insight into the important drivers of carbon footprinting for beverages and will monumentally benefit discussions on hotspot identification, product category rules and metrics for greater environmental stewardship."

First convened in 2006, BIER aims to bring about environmental improvements in the beverage sector through work focused on water stewardship, energy efficiency and climate change.

Image credit: Michelle Tribe