Liquid Thinking

Sustainable Drinking

Are consumers on board?

13th July 2022

The environment; for brands and consumers alike, it’s an issue that will not go away. Quite rightly. And as the abnormally hot weather this week shines a sunburn-inducing light once again on climate change, it’s clear that whatever actions we’ve taken thus far to reduce our impact, have not been enough.

The drinks industry has been rife in recent years with pledges towards carbon neutrality, and experiments with alternative packaging. And though consumers have eagerly embraced measures such as using less plastic, have they yet got to grips with a shift to more sustainable drinking? And do they even know what it is? 

The weather is scorching; are you tired of talking about it yet? After a few sweaty, sleepless nights, you’re probably just tired in general. And if you’re anything like the majority of consumers, when it comes to environmental awareness, you’re actually a little groggy.

According to research conducted by policy group Public First and sustainability consultancy Brodie, consumers are aware of the need to do better, but with so much information, terminology, and eco-claims from brands, they’re also a little confused. For example, the research found that only 35% of consumers would feel confident explaining the term ‘net zero’ to a stranger, while 49% said they couldn’t, and 16% said they had never heard of the term.

A lower priority

And when it comes to drinks, new research from Deloitte shows that taking steps to purchase more eco-friendly alcohol products, is a much lower priority than other categories. According to its findings on how consumers are embracing sustainability, consumers are most likely to make sustainable or ethical choices in the categories they deem essential and buy most frequently. It says “discretionary purchases such as alcohol and tobacco, nights out, and major purchases such as cars generate less interest”.

What’s more, only 25% of consumers believe responsibly sourced or manufactured labelling is an indication that the product is sustainable. When it comes to reasons why consumers are choosing not to shop sustainably, 52% cite cost, 51% indicate a lack of interest, and 48% say brands don’t provide enough information. Only one in four consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging and products.

In short, consumers want to shop more sustainably. But, with a lack of clear, consistent, independent information they’re confused about the validity of many brand’s eco-claims, especially so when it comes to drinks. And if the information isn’t easy to locate, it’s often overlooked.

The brand that cried save the wolf

So, is the drinks industry spinning its wheels for nothing? Why are consumers not yet fully engaged with sustainable drinking? Or perhaps more succinctly, why haven’t any of the industry’s efforts so far resonated with consumers?

One thing that seems to be an obvious and immediate barrier, is a lack of knowledge on what a sustainable drinks brand should be, or a lack of an easy way to find them. Though brands have been quick to claim and promote aspects of their production or charitable giving that makes them a little less-worse, it has to be said, many lack credibility, or at least, external scrutiny when claiming to be green.

Afterall, how sustainable are you if you donate an undefined portion of profits to a dolphin, seagrass or manatee charity, and yet don’t adapt production to minimise the very activities that contribute to destroying these environments in the first place

Sadly – though many brands have adapted production, made carbon neutral or even carbon positive pledges, and reduced the impact of their packaging – there are a growing number of producers relying on their promotion of a particular cause or issue, and their financial donation to it, as their sole eco concession.

Consumers have become increasingly savvy to such performative claims, and their lack of any serious credibility. Too many marketing tactics that rely on such shallow engagement risk damaging the credibility of wider eco efforts across the industry, as consumers become weary. And with a lack of a consistent label or standard across the industry, it’s increasingly hard to verify the growing number of claims being made in the first place.

Cutting through the noise

However, online drinks retailer, The Whisky Exchange is looking to cut through the noise, and offer guidance. Citing research from food and drink sustainability experts, Footprint Report, that says 56% of consumers take green credentials into account when choosing a bottle of alcohol, it has launched a new tool to help consumer verify a brand’s eco credentials.

Described as an industry-first new search functionality on its site, it allows customers to shop for their next bottle of spirits, wine or Champagne “based on sustainable credentials, designed to champion brands displaying best practice in this field”. In a bid for independent scrutiny, all suppliers were presented with a set of criteria – a mixture of recognized authentic certifications and defined criteria – against which all products are to be ‘tagged’ on the website. Consumers are able to search by external accreditation such as Fair Trade, B-Corp, organic, and biodynamic, alongside plastic free, sustainably sourced, sustainably produced, carbon neutral, net zero, and socially conscious claims.

The system, currently in early stages with around 10% of products tagged, and will eventually cover every product featured on It has been designed to be flexible enough to evolve as producers expand and innovate their own processes, and new certifications are introduced. It says it is the first online spirits retailer to add filters for sustainable criteria and certifications to its product search function.

The future is transparent

It’s obvious consumers don’t yet actually fully understand what makes something sustainable, something that suggests a huge opportunity for the drinks industry. But one thing is certain, consumers are already well-tuned to shallow or performative attempts to appear green. Nestling beneath the industry’s attempts to do better, is a growing suspicion from consumers that the environment itself has become a commodity for brands. Well meaning or not, many of the eco claims by brands can’t help like feel like shallow, performative add-ons at best, or greenwashing at worst. And consumers are growing increasingly sceptical of them.

The growth of industries such as fast fashion shows consumers are still selective with what they choose to omit, or even choose to be aware of when it comes to the environment. Yet, whether consumers are currently engaged or not, it can’t be ignored that the alcohol industry is a huge contributor to climate change. From the intensive farming of ingredients, use of vast amounts of water for production, to the impact of shifting ingredients and products across the globe, there’s no escaping the blunt truth that the industry is far from sustainable. And performative efforts to address the climate emergency only risk drawing greater scrutiny and attention to that fact; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Brands need to better communicate their commitment to real change, aligning that wherever possible with verified, scrutinised, well recognised standards, if they are to have consumers not only believe but engage with them.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at or 0207 101 3939