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The Greenest Beverage? Tap water. But What About Adult Beverages?

Posted on Aug 30 2008 by Michael Chandler

Bottles are greener than cans, but is beer the greenest choice?

In a quest to discover the most environmentally benign beverage for backyard barbecues, one builder sifted through the options to help us drink greener.

I have nothing against water: I make coffee with it, paddle a canoe in it, and I even drink it every day. But it's not always what my empty hand is looking for when I settle down in the backyard and fire up the Weber. Beer sort of hits the spot at these times. Listening to NPR on the way home from work one day, I heard that recycling 30 beer cans saved the equivalent of a gallon of gas. How many beer bottles, I wondered, would be equivalent to 30 beer cans? I asked my local recycling coordinator who wasted no time in answering me: from an environmental perspective, tap water is my best choice.

Tap water wasn't what I was after, so I refined my query
He did some research and we ran the numbers. It turns out that 385 beer bottles have the equivalent embodied energyEnergy that goes into making a product; includes energy required for growth, extraction, and transportation of the raw material as well as manufacture, packaging, and transportation of the finished product. Embodied energy is often used to measure ecological cost. of 30 beer cans. He pointed out that there was some minimal adjustment needed to account for the transportation cost of imported beer so this calculation would be most accurate if applied to domestic beer in both bottles and cans. Ah-ha! I said, this gives me an environmental rationalization for buying that nice local microbrew!

Does this mean I get to invest in a kegerator?
Actually he replied, the kegerator idea is a no-go due to the carbon footprintAmount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a person, community, industry, or other entity contributes to the atmosphere through energy use, transportation, and other means. of the refrigerator (regardless of the impact of the increased beer consumption). However, if you consider that there are 22 shots of bourbon in a bottle that likely has the embodied energy content of two beer bottles this gives you an environmental justification for drinking bourbon on the rocks (or mint juleps). If a single beer can equals 12.83 beer bottles it is roughly equivalent to 6 bottles of bourbon in terms of its carbon footprint.

I'll leave it to some one else to assess the relative carbon footprint and green house gas impact of marijuana. That's just not my cuppa tea.

—Michael Chandler is a builder near Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His website is

[Ed's note: for some fun recycling facts go to]


Feb 17, 2009 12:25 PM ET

Whiskey distillers think green
by Martin Holladay

A news article about the greening of whiskey stills:

Dec 12, 2011 6:08 PM ET

Makers Mark is at least making an effort here
by Michael Chandler I want to see if there is a more triple bottom line and less corporate brand of bourbon that I can patronize.

Dec 12, 2011 10:58 PM ET

Triple-Bottom-Line distilled spirits producers
by Michael Chandler

My previous hesitance about the triple-bottom-line issue with Makers Mark was that I thought that they were a part of Seagrams which, like Diageo, is using distribution exclusivity to drive small brewers and distillers out of business in developing countries as it consolidates its distribution network.

Actually Makers has been spun off a number of times recently and is now part of Beam international which looks to be a pretty responsible company (other than the "Skinny Girl" malt beverage line) and is also home of Basil Hayden, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Sauza, Teachers, Canadian Club, etc.

Not a B-corp but looks to be better than Seagrams or Diageo at least.

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