Coca-Cola Amatil recently announced that it would be making the switch to sustainable sugar in all of its non-alcoholic beverages in Australia. As of now all sugar sourced by the Australia based business will be from Bonsucro, and Smartcane Best Management Practice (BMP) certified sugar producers. But what is sustainable sugar and how easy is it to obtain?
Well, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota, not very easy at all. The study researched Bonsucro, a project which encourages set water-use and farming standards for the production of sugar. The study concluded that if these standards are met the environmental benefits would be enormous. For example, water-use for the production of sugar could be cut by two-thirds, and greenhouse gas emissions could be halved.
However, following these standards may not be as easy as it sounds. For starters, location matters and plays a big part in whether or not a grower can receive certification. For example, India is the world’s second largest sugar cane producer but doesn’t get enough rainfall to meet criteria. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have plants in India that use sugar grown in the country, thus putting a significant strain on water resources. Water usage is such a big problem in India that in 2017 over 1 million traders boycotted Coca-Cola and Pepsi after claims that foreign firms were exploiting the country’s water resources. India isn’t the only country facing this issue. Last year the Mexican government faced backlash over a deal with Constellation brands that would see the beverage giant build a new brewery in the town of Mexicali. Locals protested the move due to fears that the project would use what little water remained in the region.
In addition to water usage, the organisation also sets criteria for carbon reduction, pesticide use, and bans producers from using land classified as “high conservation value.”
Making the switch to sustainable sugar practices can also be an expensive move for some. For example, a grower in drought-prone India would have to spend more to gain certification than a grower in Brazil with high rainfall. “It almost has to be viewed as a cost of doing business — where enough of the big players buy in to establish a new norm,” said economist Stephen Polasky.
However, with a more in-depth study by Brunsucro detailing how those further from compliance can achieve it, making the switch could be not only good for the environment but also the grower as manufacturer’s will be more likely to buy from them in the future.
Group managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, Alison Watkins believes that deciding on using sustainable sugar in Australia is a positive change. “We have responsibilities to the community on resource use and renewal, and we’ve also heard customer feedback in favour of greater sustainability in the products we sell. The switch to sustainably accredited sugar is a step forward for our overall operations, and also in meeting that customer demand.”
Bonsucro was established in 2008 and is an international not-for-profit promoted by the World Wildlife Fund. It states that its goal is to ‘reduce the environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production while recognising the need for economic viability’. In addition to Coca-Cola, Bonsucro members include the Ferrero Group, General Mills, BP and Shell.