For beer, the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage, refrigeration is a big part of the emissions equation. A 2008 study by the New Belgium Brewing Company, based in Fort Collins, Colo., found that the greenhouse gas emissions from one six-pack were about the same as driving a car nearly eight miles. The largest share of those emissions came from refrigeration. Craft beers must remain chilled to retain their flavor profile, experts say.
Another factor to consider is packaging materials. Is the beer in a glass bottle or a can? In the United States, the most environmentally friendly option is almost always the can. Not only is aluminum lighter to ship, but it’s more likely to be recycled.
According to Georgie Walker, co-author of a sustainability study for the Firestone Walker Brewing Company, her family’s business, it’s also important to look at the number of miles a beer has covered after being bottled. Then, buy local.
“It will be fresher,” Ms. Walker said. “It won’t be sitting in storage as long and won’t have the gas miles behind it.”
Shipping distance can also be an important consideration when choosing climate-friendly wine. A study by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, for example, found that transportation accounted for 13 percent of wine’s emissions in the state.
Generally, shipping by sea is better than train, and train is better than truck.
An easy way to assess the emissions in play is to consider the East Coast, West Coast divide. Wines from Chile, for instance, are often transported in giant vats via ship to the West Coast, where they are bottled and then moved to market. Those wines could be a sustainable option for, say, drinkers in Oregon, but not in New Hampshire.
Easterners, on the other hand, may be better off with French Burgundies that were shipped across the Atlantic. Many wine labels list origin and bottling details.