Environmental harm

Alcohol is a major obstacle to sustainable development and economic prosperity.

Alcohol’s health, social, and economic harms are well known. But the negative effects of the alcohol industry on the environment, biodiversity, water and food resources and the climate are massive, too, and growing.

Pollution, water insecurity, ecosystem degradation: alcohol industry fuels climate crisis

Alcohol production, distribution, retail, and other parts of the alcohol industry are not only harming health and economy. Alcohol also harms the environmental dimension of sustainable development, for example driving the climate crisis, water and food insecurity and biodiversity loss.

Movendi International has exposed that alcohol production is a threat to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the environmental dimension of the Agenda 2030. This includes SDGs 6, 13, and 15.

Increasing levels of alcohol production are degrading farmland, jeopardize local food production and threaten the ecosystem.

In King County, Washington State, USA, the alcohol industry is found to adversely impact rural and agricultural land, locally grown food supply and salmon migrating through local rivers by degrading all agricultural production districts and destroying the Sammamish Valley river ecosystem.

Alcohol production, consumption fuels climate crisis

Alcohol, particularly beer, fuels the climate crisis, according to calculations of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The yearly amount of Australian beer consumption is equal in emissions to a car driving 1.94 billion km – the equivalent of 48,000 car rides around the world.
  • Emissions related to beer production and consumption cause the biggest damage to the climate when compared to other beverages such as coffee or tea.

Other aspects of the alcohol industry contributing to global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, high energy use, pollution and waste of natural resources are:

  • Refrigeration in the hospitality sector,
  • Use of fertilizers,
  • Water use,
  • Packaging,
  • Waste,
  • Transport of raw material,
  • Distribution of the products.

Not green after all: Alcohol fuels greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The contribution made by the alcohol consumed in the UK accounts for 1.46% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The share of beer in alcohol’s total emissions amounts to 65%

  • In a lifecycle analysis of a Spanish beer, production and transport of raw materials used in beer production was found to contribute over one third of the total global environmental impact of the beer production lifecycle.

Levels of alcohol production and consumption are unsustainable

Alcohol production means – increasingly scarce – natural resources such as cereal crops are wasted for a “luxury good” instead of necessities.

The negative impact of alcohol production on availability of cereal crops for food, water security and food waste as well as the energy-consuming production processes are causing externalities that are unsustainable.

In 2018 a scientific analysisby Poore and Nemecek showed that lowering alcohol consumption by 20% can help:

  • Reduce land use of alcohol production by 39% on average;
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 to 46%; and
  • Reduce scarcity-weighted fresh water withdrawals by 87%.
  • Processing barley into malt is an energy-consuming process and barley production itself is highly vulnerable to unstable climate condition.
  • In 2016, the global beer production amounted to about 1.94 billion hectoliters, up from 1.3 billion hectoliters in 1998. 
    • By some estimates, up to 92% of brewing ingredients are wasted.
Beer production wastes precious resources
By some estimates, up to 92% of brewing ingredients are wasted.

Levels of alcohol’s direct and second-hand harm as well as the economic costs of alcohol make consumption levels and patterns unsustainable.

What could be food and drinking water becomes toxic, addictive, carcinogenic substance

Alcohol production is jeopardizing natural resources, and is increasingly causing water shortages and food insecurity. Production of alcoholic beverages is very resource-intensive and NOT environmentally sustainable. In addition, climate change threatens to disrupt the supply of agricultural products.

A new study reveals that beer hop harvests are declining due to global warming. The decline in the harvest amounts to close to nearly 20%. Its quality is also declining according to the study.

It shows that alcohol production is putting increasing pressure on natural resources that should better serve for food and drinking water.

A third of the world’s biggest groundwater systems are already in distress and about 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions.

This is happening at the same time as the alcohol industry is causing major emissions of chemicals into waterways in its production, around the world and is fuelling water insecurity.

Alcohol production is a threat to water security in many regions of the world:

  • The water footprint of wine is horrible. To get one liter of wine, 870 liters of water are needed.
  • The water footprint of beer is horrific. Per one liter of beer, 298 liters of water have to be used.
Wine production wastes drinking water
Wine production is extremely water intense. To get one liter of wine, 870 liters of water are needed.

The increasing severity of droughts in Mexico, while Big Beer continues draining groundwater to produce beer, is a clear example of how beer production is a threat to SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation and a threat to the human right to a healthy environment.


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