At this moment, world leaders are meeting in Glasgow at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Which brought me to thinking about what the Irish beer consumer could do about the crisis facing our species. By the way, our planet does not need to be saved – just our existence on it as it changes. It is easy to take the view “let them sort it out” and continue with our daily lives. This would be a mistake for two reasons; first, they are mostly politicians subject to lobbying by big players (fossil fuel industry, mining, agriculture, and fishing interests) so could you trust them? Second, it’s an easy way out to hope that “they” can sort out a complex issue and absolve us of any action.

What can the Brewers do?
The Brewers of Europe have signed up to a new EU-wide pledge to support the shift towards sustainable food systems. Individual mega brewers like Carlsberg have gone further and pledged to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by next year and to achieve zero emissions by 2030. What can Irish brewers do? By its nature, brewing often involves the importation of ingredients from across the world in the form of speciality malts and hop varieties not grown locally (or indeed on the continent of Europe). It’s hard to see how this can change, and who would wish to stifle innovation? But they can start by reducing the amount of water they use in the brewing process. They can look at being more efficient with energy. Then try to use sustainable packaging, labelling and transport options. But that is for them, not the consumer.

What can the Consumers do?
The first thing is the most obvious – drink locally produced beers. Support your local brewery! Reducing the distance from producer to consumer is a clear way of reducing the carbon footprint of a product.

  • Be especially supportive of breweries that use Irish malt products. Some even grow their own barley!
  • Be especially supportive of breweries that use other sustainable practices and are trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Recycle all your empty cans and glass bottles at your local recycling centre.
  • Drink in the pub! This reduces the amount of packaging required.
  • Travel to the pub on foot or by bicycle, or by public transport where possible.
  • Reduce the amount of “beer holidays” taken in other countries and try to travel where possible by ship and rail.
  • Drink less! I’ve said it, but I know it’s going to be difficult!

Does this mean that you should avoid imported beers? I will leave that one up to you!

John Stephens, 1st November 2021