The conversation about climate responsibility has pushed the concept of sustainability into almost every sector, including the spirits industry. And while it is one of the top leaders participating in the sustainable movement, the spirits industry is also still one of the top contributors to negatively affect climate change given the humongous amounts of water, energy and other resources involved.
Greater Than Gin Co-founder, Anand Virmani believes the sustainability movement to be a difficult process to adapt to, despite its global appeal. “Sustainability is a big word that gets thrown around quite casually. In reality, it is a very difficult thing to do even though there is a push for it currently. Both large- and small-scale industries are making an effort in their own way.”
When it comes to gin production, the question of sustainability is at a standstill. The popular spirit is not immune to the global concept of environmental responsibility. In fact, as customers grow more aware of the environmental effect of their choices, distilleries and gin makers have begun stepping up to embrace sustainable practices throughout the whole gin manufacturing process.
The gin industry’s participation in sustainability might vary based on the practises and efforts adopted by various producers. While some gin brands and distilleries are actively embracing sustainability and implementing eco-friendly practices, it might not be reasonable to assume the whole sector is actively participating. However, the growing conversation around sustainability has encouraged several gin manufacturers to implement environmentally friendly practices including sourcing locally cultivated, organic botanicals, preserving water and energy resources during the manufacturing process, decreasing waste through recycling and reuse, and using environmentally friendly packaging materials. These practices help to make the gin business more environmentally friendly.
Like any distillation process, gin has its negative impacts. The very first step in gin production, botanical sourcing, has one of the greatest consequences on the environment. Depending on the practices employed, the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers can contribute to soil and water pollution. Juniper is one of the common ingredients in the gin base, however, most gin brands use a combination of other ingredients as well, many of which are difficult to source. This is where unsustainability comes into play.
Distillation, an essential step in gin making and is pretty straightforward. Add yeast to sugar to turn it into alcohol, add water, heat the solution until the alcohol vaporises and separates, and then cool it to a liquid somewhere else. As simple as this seems, there is a significant amount of water, power and raw materials employed. The water used in the production process, including for cleaning and cooling, can contribute to water scarcity and put pressure on local water resources. Sustainable gin producers implement water conservation measures such as recycling and reusing water, as well as investing in water-efficient technologies. Gin production also requires energy for distillation — heating, cooling, and packaging processes. The energy sources used can have varying environmental impacts depending on their carbon footprint.
The waste generated in gin production is one of the largest factors of concern when it comes to sustainability. When it comes to packaging, the materials used in gin production, such as glass bottles, closures, and labels, all contribute to waste generation.
Gin production generates waste byproducts, such as spent botanicals and residues from the distillation process. These byproducts can be repurposed or recycled to minimize waste. Some gin producers use spent botanicals as compost or animal feed, while others may employ anaerobic digestion to produce biogas from organic waste. The transportation of raw materials, botanicals, and finished gin products contributes to carbon emissions and air pollution. Sustainable gin producers may prioritize local sourcing and distribution networks to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.
To mitigate the environmental impact of gin making, sustainable practices are being embraced by an increasing number of gin producers. These practices include sourcing organic or sustainably grown botanicals, conserving water and energy, utilizing eco-friendly packaging, implementing waste reduction strategies, and adopting greener transportation methods. By supporting gin producers that prioritize sustainability, consumers can play a role in encouraging the industry to continue its progress towards more environmentally friendly practices.
Mirabeau, a fairly young product and ethical, sustainable principles have been important to us since its original conception. The first step along that path was to decide what we wanted to produce; a close second was how we minimize any potential negative impact. Our base alcohol comes from recycled grape skins – the by-product of our core business: making wine! Packaging is under serious review at the moment, minimizing what we use and using it better where we can. For example, we need to use a security collar. Traditionally, this would be a colourless plastic, but ours are made from more environmentally friendly maize.
The biggest impact on the environment usually from a distillation perspective is the electricity and the use of water for cooling the condenser.
The best way to look at sourcing is with a long-term view. Any business planning to be around for years to come needs to nurture its supply chain. Alex Ignatieff – Director of Gin and New Product Development at Mirabeau adds, “We could cut corners sourcing unsustainably farmed or harvested ingredients but if we don’t look after the farmers and the land, there will be no supply in a very short time frame. We audit our supply chain on a regular basis. Again, this is an area we are constantly looking to improve, not just to have the information but to share our principles and B Corp standards. It is definitely a chance to be proactive with third parties seemingly removed or beyond our control. From embarking on our path to this certification, it has been reassuring to see how open to new ideas suppliers have been. Most rewarding has been those that tackle questions never really on their radar or directly relevant to what they supply.”
Organic farming is a complex topic. Our commitment to B Corp, Regenerative Farming and Science Based Targets (SBTi), which guides all our decision-making in growing and producing wine and gin, moves beyond basic organic farming requirements. These are a great base but cannot be the ‘end game’ in themselves. Research and practices are constantly evolving, and organic farming principles need to keep up with this.
I’m not sure if this is the case. Most botanicals used are farmed extensively already – the Gin industry would be using a minuscule fraction.
The right quality of Himalayan juniper is the hardest to source. Because we encourage fair pay for botanicals, we have been able to continue working with a select group of suppliers and develop long-term relationships. Dried botanicals tend to be more sustainable to source and use since logistics are smoother and there is negligible wastage due to spoilage.
A sustainable shift
In recent years, the gin industry has shown a notable shift towards more sustainable and ethical practices. Several factors contribute to this shift:
Consumer Demand: Increasingly, consumers are seeking out products that align with their values, including sustainability and ethical production. As consumers become more conscious of their purchasing choices, they are demanding transparency and sustainable practices from gin producers. This demand has influenced many gin brands to prioritize sustainability in their operations.
Industry Collaboration and Standards: The gin industry has seen collaborations between producers, trade associations, and certification bodies to establish standards and guidelines for sustainability. These collaborations provide a platform for knowledge sharing and encourage producers to adopt sustainable practices.
Environmental Impact Awareness: The growing awareness of environmental issues, such as climate change, plastic pollution, and habitat degradation, has prompted gin producers to address their environmental impact. They recognize the need to minimize their carbon footprint, conserve resources, and protect ecosystems.
Innovation and Technology: Advancements in technology have made sustainable practices more accessible and cost-effective for gin producers. From energy-efficient distillation equipment to water conservation measures and waste reduction techniques, innovations have facilitated the adoption of sustainable practices throughout the gin production process.
Supply Chain Transparency: Gin producers are increasingly focused on understanding and improving their supply chains. This involves assessing the environmental and social impact of sourcing botanicals, packaging materials, and other ingredients. Producers are seeking to source sustainably, support local communities, and ensure fair labour practices.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Many gin brands have recognized the importance of corporate social responsibility and are integrating it into their business strategies. This involves giving back to communities, supporting environmental initiatives, and engaging in philanthropic endeavours.