The drinks brands championing sustainability

According to Stéphanie Francisco, manager of Château de la Croix in Bordeaux: “Since 1870, our property has evolved with new technologies while respecting our tradition and our know-how. Indeed, we carry out certain work in the vineyard and cellars with traditional methods such as working the soil and ageing in French oak barrels.

“We have always had the concern of working while respecting the environment, nature, and certain traditions of our ancestors by combining modern techniques, particularly in the way we vinify our wines. The old and the new are a great blend.”

While the châteaux of Bordeaux have the task of blending modernity with the 19th century, new brands can build sustainability into their foundations.

The chemical reaction at the centre of the drinks industry, fermentation, converts sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide, so naturally there will come an expectation on producers to actively lower their carbon footprint.

New York City’s Air Company claims to produce the world’s first carbon-negative vodka. By combining captured CO2 with hydrogen obtained through solar powered water electrolysis (by which H2O is split into hydrogen and oxygen), ethanol and water are produced.

“We distil the ethanol to make it very pure, then mix it with water from New York that has a better flavour and body to it,” says Gregory Constantine, co-founder of Air Company.

While it sounds like science fiction, the resulting vodka won a gold medal in the 2020 International Spirits Challenge. This is important – who cares how your vodka is bettering the planet if it doesn’t taste good?

Constantine adds: “That is part of our larger mission – to prove you don’t need to relinquish quality when purchasing a sustainable product. We’re past the point of needing to do the bare minimum. It’s important for the industry to consider how they can make each step of their production process more sustainable, even if that means paying a higher price. Everyone needs to be doing their part to help create change and work toward solving climate change.”

Ocean Beer has a similarly unflinching approach to championing sustainability. All profits from its lager, IPA and alcohol-free beer go towards ocean conservation initiatives: carbon offsetting;  fixed yacht anchorage sites in the Mediterranean preventing anchors from destroying seabed habitat; a flush-less and chemical-less toilet that aims to clean up Manila Bay; and a campaign to stop people tossing cigarette butts.

“There’s no separate company, no shareholders, all of the profits of the beer go right into the foundation,” says co-founder Martin Schwab. “We wanted to create a new income stream for ocean conservation and clean up.”

Sustainability will always be a journey for the drinks industry rather than a destination, and while it’s comforting to see the multinational companies championing environmental responsibility, progress must continue even if the message slips out of vogue.

Trevethyen sums it up: “Educating people by inspiring them and then getting them to amplify that message, that’s how we will win at this.”