In search of eco-friendly alcohol

 

Sir, – Sorcha Hamilton’s piece “Cans, bottles or on tap: What’s the most eco-friendly?” (Food & Drink, March 9th) is a very refreshing reminder of the “environmental cost of alcohol”, and a welcome call for more action.

I fully agree that, as she writes, “if you’re picking up a bottle of wine from New Zealand or California this weekend, it’s worth thinking about the distance that bottle has had to travel”. Yet the issue remains for us as consumers: how on earth can we make a choice if there’s a lack of transparency and information on which wines come with what “environmental cost”?

Why on earth do politicians fail to push for more transparency on behalf of us consumers? Well, the answer is perhaps all too obvious, when we think of businesses shunning the costs of delivering on transparency (eg with regard to carbon footprints).

Yet it would be too simplistic to be bashing businesses here too bluntly; small businesses face much larger compliance costs on delivering such information.

On the positive side, I think it is to be applauded that the European Commission is currently pushing for a great harmonisation initiative (“product environmental footprint” pilot projects) that will quite likely deliver real benefits of transparency and comparability to consumers on those “environmental costs” via improved bottle labelling.

In the meantime, we academics should try to add to the debate, so that when we sink into our sofas over the weekend with a glass in hand, we know that choosing the Californian red over the New Zealand white was actually a good choice in environmental terms – and that we stop making nebulous choices that send the wrong market signals to those who could make a difference in this sustainability debate.

Our research from Finland not only suggests that there are indeed huge country-of-origin differences, as you would expect, but also that a switch from heavy- to light-glass bottles alone can reduce the carbon footprint of the bottle by about 6 per cent.

So cheers to making a big impact with a small change in behaviour, before we sink into our sofas! – Yours, etc,

Prof BODO STEINER, PhD

Professor of Food

Economics

and Business Management,

Department of Economics

and Management,

University of Helsinki.