It was not long ago that procuring sustainably sourced beer required a jaunt down to the local microbrewery, often with a hefty price tag to go along with it. These days, larger macro brewers are stepping into line with consumer demand by placing a greater emphasis on improving their carbon footprints. As customers and businesses become increasingly aware of the need for proactive changes, ethically crafted libations will increasingly take up spots on the shelf.
Alcohol behemoth Diageo is one of many such companies working to improve its regenerative agriculture practices with the aim of improving soil health, protecting natural resources and sequestering carbon.
Diageo's recently announced pilot program for Guinness is part of a larger 10-year sustainability action plan targeting net-zero carbon emissions across all direct operations, along with a 50 percent reduction in value chain emissions, by 2030. The new pilot program will take place in Ireland and will last three years.
During the first phase, which will occur in the spring and winter barley sowing of 2022, Guinness will work with a minimum of 40 farmers to improve the sustainability metrics of their barley production. As the pilot develops, the number of participating farmers will continue to increase. The pilot is expected to boast several benefits, including improvements to soil health, enhanced biodiversity, reductions in synthetic fertilizer use, enhancements to water quality, and improvements to farmer livelihoods.
"The great thing about regenerative agriculture is the simplicity of the approach," Walter Furlong Jr., one of the farmers involved in the pilot, said in a statement. "It's not a complicated process — it works in harmony with nature whilst providing a commercial benefit for farmers. We already use regenerative agricultural practices and have seen a marked improvement in the quality of the soil on our farm. It is a highly effective approach that leads to much better outcomes."
The company says it will openly share the results of the new venture, providing valuable insight to other farmers and industry professionals. At a time here on Earth when, for the climate's sake, we cannot afford to covet this type of information, it is imperative that cooperative efforts such as this continue to play out within the food and beverage sector as a whole.
Well, as Food Dive reported, the stance is mixed. One 2021 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, conducted by the International Food Council, found that 36 percent of respondents viewed foods derived from regenerative agricultural practices as the healthier choice. However, those same participants said they'd be unwilling to pay more for those products.
Research into sustainably sourced beer in particular is more promising. In a 2018 survey of 1,094 U.S. adults, 59 percent of respondents said they'd pay more for beer labels that invest in sustainable practices. Although it is worth noting that those respondents had self identified as beer drinkers, meaning they're already more inclined to spend up on the suds.
With that information in mind, the expansion of sustainably sourced beer and alcohol beyond the craft market, through initiatives like Diageo's new pilot program, could be key to improving accessibility in demographics where people want to support sustainable practices but cannot justify the higher costs that are typically associated with such products. While the price of a sustainably sourced pint of Guinness may end up costing more, it will likely still be cheaper than many of the ethically produced stouts produced for the craft beer market.
As larger food and beverage companies continue to align their ingredient sourcing with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and other global agendas, we get closer to living in a world where sustainable products are no longer associated with pretension and, in turn, continue along the path of becoming the norm.
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