Thursday, September 09, 2010

Drinking to save the climate

This paper in Food and Nutrition research is nicely timed with the beginning of the academic year, when new students are being warned about the dangers of too much partying and excessive alcohol consumption (by their professors and administrators, people who most likely partied too much and consumed excess amounts of alcohol when they were students).

A group of Swedish scientists calculated the GHG emissions generated from the production of a number of different common beverages and the nutritional benefit of those beverages per unit emissions (left).

The verdict? If you want to minimize emissions, pas up on the wine and go for water, soy drinks and oat drinks (mmm?). Beer and milk are almost a dead heat in terms of emissions, though the authors caution against adding beer to your cereal in the morning [update: er, that's a joke. the paper doesn't venture into breakfast habits!].

If you want to maximize the nutritional value for each unit of climate damage (the "NDCI index"), it is milk all the way. The reason is that beer and wine offer basically zero nutritional value. Soft drinks too. Alas, it's true, there's no nutritional value to high fructose corn syrup!

With UBC being a sustainable university, milk and oat drinks will now certainly be a popular choice at all the undergrad parties and faculty functions.

The exact numbers should vary by city, region and country, based on transportation of the beverages ("drink miles"?) and production practices. I'd guess the general breakdown should be roughly similar in most locations, given that the nutrient densities are more or less constant from place to place and lower limits to the production emissions.


Alexander Ac said...

Hmmm, it would be nice to translate the article into French language! :-)

Ruben van Hooidonk said...

Nice piece Simon!
The "drink miles" will indeed vary a bit, but if someone is really concerned about sustainability he should not only watch what he is drinking, he should go vegetarian.

According to a study (Weber and Matthews, 2008) the choice of food makes a much bigger impact then where it comes from.

Here is a link to the article:

Keep up the good work!


Simon Donner said...

Fine point Ruben. I actually wrote about that paper a couple years back.