The drinks industry is not the first sector you might think of when it comes to sustainability.
After all, it uses a lot of water, plastic and energy to produce products, which some might argue are not be totally necessary.
And in recent months, the bottled water industry has come in for some steep criticism in recent months, particularly over its penchant for single-use plastics.
But a recent event to mark World Water Day looked at how the drinks industry is striving to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
One of the speakers at the event at the London Edition was Patrick Gee, who is the founder of Llanllyr Source Water, which supplies bottled water and mixers to five star hotels and Michelin star restaurants from a farm in West Wales.
‘I have been in the business of putting water in bottles for 20 years,’ said Mr Gee. ‘Over those years, water companies have got a bad rap. People do not necessarily understand what we do. It’s a product that comes out of the ground and it should always be carbon neutral.
‘Every single water company that sells in the UK should be carbon neutral,’ he added.
Mr Gee said his company measures the movement of all raw materials into the company, all the energy used on the farm and business miles.
He added all that data is then collated every year and offset.
‘We could always do more and we strive every year to make some improvement,’ he added.
‘The wellbeing of the environment is core to our belief as farmers,’ he explained.
The basic rules for us are that we have no pesticide and we never overstock. Our belief is look after the soil, hedgerows and meadows and they will look after you.’
The bottled water comes straight from a borehole on the farm and Mr Gee said ‘at absolutely no point’ will the company ever extract more water than is coming in from the skies.
‘Water falls from the skies and either it will run off into the rivers or ditches, it will evaporate or it will percolate the ground,’ he told the event. ‘And that in turn becomes water we bottle.’
Mr Gee added the company is now looking to eliminate the use of PET plastic bottles and go back into aluminium cans.
‘We are in the process of developing an edible forest,’ added Mr Gee. ‘In 20 years time, the idea is we will have a natural laboratory for flavours and food, which can grow food for 12 months of the year to supply a family of five.’
He added they are currently in year three of developing the edible forest, which is occupying a four-acre site on the farm.
‘For us, farming is not what it was 20 or 30 years ago and there are a lot of people who are leaving rural communities. What we have is a business, which is supported by people in London buying our product which helps sustain employment where we are.’
Also speaking at the event was the Bob Clark, who is the head of sales at the Burton-based Freedom Brewery.
Mr Clark admitted the amount of water that is wasted in the brewing process can be ‘remarkable’ but added the industry is taking steps to limit the amount of water that is wasted.
‘Today, for every pint of beer made 4.4 pints of water have been wasted, which is unbelievable, but in 1990 that figure was 6.7 pints of water,’ he told the event.
‘If we were to start using better practices in breweries, we could expect that figure to go down to three pints,’ he added. ‘Should the whole industry reduce consumption by 10% then we could save 660 million litres in year and save the sector £2 million.’
Mr Clark added Freedom Brewery does not waste ‘one millilitre’ of water thanks to an anaerobic digestion pond on their site, which treats all biodegradable waste.
‘Even the water we use to clean the dishes after lunch gets recycled,’ he added.
The brewery also sends all its spent grain to local farmers.
‘Cows that eat spent grain emit 30% less methane as a result, so we are also saving the environment that way,’ he added.
And Mr Clark says Freedom Brewery uses an onsite borehole that runs 650 metres underground and provides them with some of the best water in the country to make beer.
‘In the history of brewing, Burton is a really important place,’ he said. ‘That’s why we moved there. It has legendary water. There’s a really high, sulphur-rich iron content in the water we have there.
‘There’s a whiff of sulphur you get naturally from the water source in the brewery. It’s called the “Burton snatch’. It’s terrible for making tea, but it’s amazing for making beer.
‘Every brewery outside of Burton will ‘Burtonise’ their water and use reverse osmosis to strip the minerals out of their water. Then they will add gypsum and salt to replicate the water we have as a natural source. By using reverse osmosis, you waste 25% of the water you are using to make the beer.’
‘All the paper we use in the brewery goes to bedding to the local farmers as well,’ added Mr Clark.
‘We try and do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.’
Photo by Chris_Parfitt