Sustainability: No more excuses

COP26 littered newspaper headlines throughout November. The focus was supposed to be on resolving the climate change crisis, but predictably turned into a game of political chess. In the absence of any authoritative leadership, our industry needs to set an example.

It’s admirable to see independent bars making small changes to reduce their carbon footprint, especially off the back of a crippling pandemic, but really the onus is on the major drinks companies and their distributors to make the important changes to production, packaging and transport.

Sadly, in order for successful companies to commit to sustainable initiatives, they need either a guaranteed financial return or good PR. Removing plastic straws has probably been the most publicised sustainable practice in the trade, with the PR campaigns of chains convincing consumers they’re saving turtles from the brink of extinction. While it’s a tenuous claim, it’s still a positive in my eyes because it’s raising awareness and putting social pressures on others to follow suit.

Concept bars such as RE in Sydney are now mapping the blueprints for new levels of sustainability, demonstrating what can be achieved when venues are designed from the ground up. These trailblazers should be celebrated to educate the wider industry on what’s possible and encourage others to make incremental steps towards a brighter future, regardless of their size.

Unfortunately, being sustainable costs. Without centralised government systems for efficient recycling or financial incentives to become more green, sustainability usually requires either greater investment or additional labour. However, forward thinking goes a long way. For example, preserving produce when it’s in season is a good way of ensuring that Strawberry Daiquiris, for instance, are feasible in the depths of winter without having to import them from abroad. Fixed seasonal menus are another good strategy for reducing waste as you know exactly what ingredients you’ll need and how much well in advance.

Some will argue that sustainable bartending comes at the expense of quality, but that’s not true. Lyaness, Native, Himkok and many others have been making amazing drinks with a sustainable focus for years – and they’re some of the most revered bars in the business.

Right now it’s difficult to see whether our leadership is coming from the big companies or independent bars, but ultimately, being more sustainable comes down to education, forward planning and labour. It might mean working harder for little financial gain, but we have no choice – we’re running out of time and we’ve run out of excuses.