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A new study released this month finds that water, in all its forms, has the least environmental impact of any beverage choice. And when compared to other packaged beverages, including soft drinks, sports drinks, enhanced waters and juices, bottled water has the lightest environmental footprint. The “life cycle analysis study,” available at www.beveragelcafootprint.com, was commissioned by Nestle Waters North America and conducted by Quantis International, a well-recognized leader in life cycle analyses and related applications.
The study is believed to be the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of the environmental impact of water and alternative beverage options, including filtered and unfiltered tap water consumed from reusable plastic, steel and aluminum containers. The analysis follows internationally accepted standards for methodology and transparency in reporting all findings, including favorable and unfavorable comparisons with other beverage options.
According to the report, packaging and distribution are key contributors to a beverage’s carbon footprint. Nestle Waters’ Eco-Shape® bottled water has the smallest environmental impact among bottled beverages because the bottles use the least amount of plastic and travel a relatively short distance from source to shelf. Bottled water also doesn’t use “grown” ingredients, such as sugar, which eliminates the environmental impact of additional water, pesticides and energy usage associated with harvesting those ingredients. The report determines Eco-Shape to be the best choice for the environment among drinks in packages.
While some of the study’s key findings come as little surprise (i.e., water is the least environmentally impactful beverage option; tap water has the lightest footprint, followed by tap water consumed in reusable bottles [if used more than 10 times], and then by bottled water), several other noteworthy highlights include:
• Water of all types accounts for 41 percent of a consumer’s total beverage consumption, but represents just 12 percent of a consumer’s climate change impact
• Milk, coffee, beer, wine and juice together comprise 28 percent of a consumer’s total beverage consumption, but represent 58 percent of climate change impact
• Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible packaged drink choice
• Sports drinks, enhanced waters and soda produce nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide emissions per serving than bottled water
• Juice, beer and milk produce nearly three times as many carbon dioxide emissions per serving as bottled water
• Consumers can decrease the climate change impact of consuming an Eco-Shape bottle by 25 percent if they simply recycle it
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a network of the national standards institutes in 163 countries, provides specific guidelines for conducting a life cycle analysis. According to ISO, life cycle analysis addresses the environmental aspects throughout a product’s life cycle, from raw material acquisition through production, use, end-of-life treatment, recycling (where appropriate) and final disposal. Where information from the manufacturers of other products is unavailable, this study assumes equal performance with Nestle Waters.
“Bottled water, like every beverage, has an environmental footprint. The question is, what are we doing to reduce it?” said Alex McIntosh, director of corporate citizenship, Nestle Waters North America. “This study helps us — and our stakeholders — consider the impacts of beverage options in a fuller context. For example, this report indicates that bottled water bans can be counterproductive from an environmental perspective, since research shows if bottled water [was] not available, two-thirds of people would drink other packaged beverages, like soft drinks and juices, which often have more impact on the environment than bottled water.”
Quantis is a team of world-leading experts in the field of environmental life cycle assessment. Quantis works with leading companies, governments and other decision-makers to identify and implement the right actions for achieving a more sustainable world. For more information, visit www.quantis-intl.com.