There are several pathways to dismantling the unsustainable beverage industry as it exists today. Eco-friendly packaging, renewable energy sources for manufacturing, and water recycling systems have all been used to great effect to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint. Since 2015, the industry has reduced its water use by nearly 2%, its energy use by 6%, and a 17% decrease in emissions despite producing more beverages than ever.
Still, this progress is not nearly enough. Instead, the best way to address the climate challenges of the beverage industry is by moving to a decentralized manufacturing ecosystem. Rather than shipping raw ingredients halfway around the world and then shipping the finished product back again, we need to find hyperlocal ways of producing the beverages we love while avoiding their environmental impact. The only way we’re going to compete with the convenience of a bottled drink is through the thoughtful application of science and engineering to this problem.
Advancements in flavor science and the internet of things have laid the foundation for a revolution in beverage production. We now know that only a handful of flavors are responsible for the vast majority of a drink’s taste and we know that it’s possible to isolate these compounds and recreate popular beverages from their raw ingredients. But rather than fermenting our own wine grapes or mixing our own sodas, we now have the technology for a machine to precisely produce these drinks on its own. What once required a football-field sized manufacturing facility can now fit on a countertop and produce any drink imaginable. It sounds like something out of the Jetsons, but it’s already here.
While other solutions exist, such as raising taxes on bottled beverages to disincentivize their purchase, these will always run up against the challenges posed by consumer preference. We’ve come to love soda, sparkling water, and fruit juices, and we’ve been drinking wine and beer for thousands of years. This ultimately means we won’t be able to solve the beverage industry’s environmental challenges until we can find adequate replacements for these consumer products because the demand isn’t going to go away.
Moving to a decentralized and hyperlocal framework for beverage production is the fastest and easiest way to reduce the massive environmental impact of the industry. It will avoid the costly and time-consuming processes of instituting regulatory change or creating new recycling facilities and technologies. When it comes to fighting climate change, time is of the essence. We need to deploy new beverage technologies at scale that allow billions of people to continue to enjoy their favorite drinks without killing our planet in the process.