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Conscious cocktails: The real environmental impact of the UK's favourite tipples

Conscious cocktails: The real environmental impact of the UK's favourite tipples
25/04/2022

A cocktail is a classic staple of any night out. Whether it’s fresh and fruity or bold and bitter, here in the UK we’re big fans of these mixed drinks. In fact, a record 7.4 million of us said we enjoyed a cocktail or two over the course of the pandemic, according to drinks producer AG Barr (The Guardian).

While cocktails might be a big seller in your restaurant or bar, have you ever wondered just what kind of impact these drinks are having on the planet? The hospitality sector is responsible for 15% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which means it’s vital for businesses to take action where they can. And the first step is recognising what kind of impact you’re having in the first place.

Here at Alliance Online, we’ve worked out the carbon footprint of the UK’s top 10 favourite cocktails and offered our expert advice for creating a more planet-friendly drinks menu.

The carbon footprint of the UK’s top 10 cocktails

Piña Colada — 690g of CO2e per drink Cosmopolitan — 366g of CO2e per drink Long Island Iced Tea — 318.5g of CO2e per drink Margarita — 244g of CO2e per drink Mojito — 230g of CO2e per drink Aperol Spritz — 218.5g of CO2e per drink Pornstar Martini — 211.8g of CO2e per drink Negroni — 206g of CO2e per drink Old Fashioned — 190g of CO2e per drink Espresso Martini — 152.44g of CO2e per drink Our data showed that cocktails with fewer ingredients naturally had a much lower carbon footprint. An espresso martini, for example, has just three or four ingredients and the smallest carbon footprint. Meanwhile, those that relied heavily on imported ingredients and fruits were much less eco-friendly.

Of all the cocktails in our ranking, a piña colada had the biggest carbon footprint, with a whopping 690g of CO2e per drink. Just five of those drinks produce enough carbon emissions to drive 8.6 miles in a petrol-powered car or charge 420 smart phones!

While this favourite cocktail is loved for its tropical flavours, it’s these flavours that contribute to its high carbon emissions. The UK’s fresh pineapples are imported mainly from Costa Rica, resulting in around 640kg of CO2 emissions from pineapple imports alone (Air Miles Calculator). Add to that the coconut cream, the majority of which is imported from Sri Lanka, resulting in another 637kg of CO2 emissions in air miles (Air Miles Calculator).

But while a piña colada’s carbon footprint is significantly higher than some of the other cocktails on our list, that’s not to say the others aren’t without their substantial emissions too. A cosmopolitan worked out at 366g of CO2e per drink, partly owing to the cranberries, of which the US is a major exporter.

How can you reduce your carbon footprint?

So, what can you do as a business owner to reduce the carbon footprint of your cocktail menu? By making a few simple swaps, you can significantly cut down your carbon emissions and make your bar much more eco-friendly.

Buy British Importation is the biggest contributor to our cocktails’ carbon footprints, so naturally the best way to reduce your emissions is by cutting down on imported products. The majority of UK spirits are imported from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain (Statista). This includes popular spirits such as triple sec, Aperol, vodka, and prosecco, among others. So, consider swapping your usual imported drinks for British-made options instead.

While the UK market is saturated with locally distilled gins and whiskies, we’re also starting to see certain British vodkas, sparkling wines, and even rum and tequila taking the market. As they’re produced right here in the UK, buying these spirits not only helps you support other local businesses, but can significantly cut down your carbon emission too.

Reduce your food waste A specialty cocktail wouldn’t be complete without a little garnish, but how much of your garnishes go to waste at the end of the day? Herbs, citrus peels, and fruit skins can be utilised in a variety of ways and can even be used to create infused spirits. Simply place the garnish in a bottle of any clear spirit and let it infuse for at least three days. You can then use these to add an extra bit of zing to your cocktails. Alternatively, you could dehydrate your leftovers in an oven to prolong their shelf life.

If you serve food as well as drinks, consider how you can reuse the food waste from your kitchen in your cocktails too. Any fruits and vegetables that are starting to look past their best can be turned into homemade juices. For example, you can use the juice of a bell pepper to spruce up your margaritas.

Don’t be afraid to mix up your cocktail menu to use up whatever you have going spare. Sustainability is a big selling point, and your customers will love their one-of-a-kind, low-waste drinks. They may even come back another day to see what else is on the menu.

Find alternatives You may also want to consider where you can find alternative ingredients to cut down on any unnecessary imports. Garnishes are a great example of this as they’re often merely there for decoration and are thrown away once the drink is finished. Considering many garnishes take a lot of CO2 to get here, this is an extraordinary waste. So, why not switch to more eco-friendly, locally grown garnishes with a much lower carbon footprint? For example, bar chain Revolution has recently swapped their passion fruit garnishes for rice paper alternatives in a move to cut down their carbon emissions (Absolute Magazine).

A similar concept can be applied to the drinks themselves too. For instance, you could swap out citrus fruits, which aren’t grown in the UK, for another acid alternative, such as vinegar or lactic acid powder to give the same sour flavour.

Go with the seasons Opting for seasonal ingredients is another way to reduce your carbon emissions. It takes a lot of energy to grow fruits and vegetables out of season as producers need to rely on artificial light and heat to simulate growing conditions. Local, seasonal ingredients are grown under natural conditions, meaning they have a much smaller carbon footprint. Again, consider how you can switch up the flavours in your cocktails for more seasonal versions and create a seasonal cocktail menu that’s not just exclusive, but great for the environment too.

Shop eco-friendly disposables Of course, it’s not just the ingredients that can affect the carbon footprint of your cocktails. Since the single use plastics ban, the hospitality sector has embraced alternatives to plastic straws and drink stirrers. However, take this further by considering other eco-friendly bar supplies such as polycarbonate glassware, which offers a more robust option to glassware, environmentally sustainable napkins, and fully cyclic paper hand towels. Making changes such as these can help the environment and show customers you care about your businesses’ carbon footprint.

In light of the results, Rachael Kiss, Marketing and Online Manager at Alliance Online said:

“It’s incredibly important for us to reduce our carbon emissions, now more than ever, and the first step to reducing our carbon footprint is by recognising our impact and what we need to change. Cocktails can be big sellers for bars and restaurants, but the carbon footprint of just one drink is disturbing. And, when you consider just how many cocktails are sold in any given day, it’s clear that we need to take steps to be more sustainable.

There are a number of ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, from shopping with local distilleries to cutting down on food waste. All these small steps can have a big impact and they won’t just benefit the environment either — you may find that you save a bit of money by using up leftovers. Your brand image might get a boost too, as more customers are choosing to shop with eco-friendly brands than ever before.”

As businesses, it’s incredibly important for us to implement more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. By recognising the impact your cocktail menu is having on the planet, you can take steps to reduce your carbon footprint. These changes don’t have to be limited to your drinks, either: shopping with British producers, cutting down on waste, and switching to eco-friendly options can all be applied to other areas of your business too. For more tips and advice, be sure to take a look at our blog.

Here at Alliance Online, we offer an incredible range of pub and bar equipment, including plenty of cocktail accessories that will help you make impressive cocktails to wow your customers with. We offer plenty of eco options too, so why not make the change today?

The top 50 cocktails were entered into Ahrefs to find the UK’s top 10 favourites. The 10 with the highest search volumes were added to our list. We then used the My Emissions food calculator to work out the carbon emissions of each ingredient before calculating the total carbon footprint of one serving of each cocktail. The total emissions per five drinks was then calculated and the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator was used to find the CO2 equivalents for the number of miles driven by the average gasoline-powered vehicle and the number of smartphones charged.

The full dataset can be viewed here.

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