Lucozade sport is produced under the brand umbrella of Lucozade Ribena Suntory, a soft drinks giant in the UK who seems to take their environmental and social accountability very seriously. However, although they are part of a plethora of initiatives, ranging from the UK Plastics Pact to Fareshare, the actual products they supply are questionably eco-friendly, with many of the sweeteners and flavourings found in the original Lucozade Sport posing a neglected environmental threat. Moreover, the packaging for Lucozade Sport has always had a seemingly cult status in the UK, where the squeeze cap provides a unique drinking experience. However, these caps use purely virgin plastic and can not be easily recycled, meaning that one of Lucozade’s biggest brand strengths is one of its downfalls in their pursuit for a sustainable product. This is what worries me about Lucozade Sport, as the strength and popularity of the product is founded on unsustainable practices. Overall, Lucozade Sport is a product that is becoming increasingly sustainable, with plastic reduction being a key area for improvement. However, as the drink is designed to optimise sporting performance, it contains plenty of artificial chemicals, many of which have suspicious environmental reputations. Despite this, I don’t see this as a reason to stop buying, supporting or drinking Lucozade Sport, as the brand is doing far more for sustainable initiatives than many of its competitors.
The original, orange, Lucozade Sport is primarily made up of water and glucose syrup, with multiple preservatives, flavourings, vitamins and colourings designed to give Lucozade its isotonic property. Turning first to the key ingredient of water, Lucozade can do a lot better. The majority of Lucozade’s water for its Coleford site is sourced from the water supply of the local town, which not only impacts the quantity of local resources, but is far more wasteful than private water supplies, which enable owners of such a system to recycle waste water more effectively. What is more positive is that Lucozade have acknowledged this and are in the process of privatising their water, with around 50% of all drinks coming from this source by the end of 2021.
What is less positive about Lucozade Sport’s ingredients is the chemicals involved in flavouring. The issue here is the lack of recognition by Lucozade Ribena Suntory concerning the ecologically degrading supply processes for these chemicals. With Lucozade being produced in the same factory as Ribena blackcurrant squash (hence the Lucozade Ribena Suntory umbrella), most of the effort to provide a sustainable product is placed into Ribena. This makes sense as it is far easier to ensure the supply chain for blackcurrants is more up to scratch compared with complex chemicals such as Aspartame. As a result, Lucozade Ribena Suntory has taken the easier route of indulging in its resilient biodiversity plans for their blackcurrant farmers rather than tackling the issues in Lucozade sport production.
For me, the key ingredients that miss the mark are Aspartame and acacia gum. Although neither are famed for their environmentally degrading properties, they carry risks, and go under the radar too often in the supply chain. For Aspartame, genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s) and bacteria are part of the production process, with the environmental footprint for these processes being completely unregulated in the EU due to food additives being automatically approved by the European Food Safety Authority. This means that when Aspartame is produced, the treatment plants producing them can freely dump waste that include the chemical, where its long degradation time has lasting effects on the environment. This has been researched in nordic countries, where Aarhus university showed that all treatment plants failed to eliminate chemical waste from their waste water. Simply put, the aspartame in Lucozade Sport is produced in an accountability-free polluting environment. Comparatively, acacia gum being a more common ingredient for such drinks, is typically grown using strong pesticides that contaminate air, water and soil.
The production process for Lucozade sport is surprisingly mysterious, with few websites, reports or news articles shedding light on the exact way that the drink is made. However, as with any mass-produced drink production, a lot of heating and energy is needed. Luckily, Lucozade Ribena Suntory do provide some information on this, and for the most part its pretty good. The factory has a combined heat and power plant that captures waste steam and utilises it in the heating processes for its drinks. To quantify this, around 76% of the power on-site comes through this form of energy recycling. Regulators also seem to agree that Lucozade are doing a decent job, with the factory having achieved all ISO 14001 criteria for environmental management, which is a framework for mapping out an effective environmental management system. Lucozade Ribena Suntory have also gone beyond this with their own action plan, which has a fairly achievable goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 25% by 2030, as well as water consumption by 15%. Although relatively small numbers, in drinks production, reducing water consumption by 15% is a far bigger ask than the majority of industries. Equally, much of the factories equipment is optimised to save energy, with electric forklifts operating in the dark at night in order to save light energy.
The key area where Lucozade Ribena Suntory needs to do more is their packaging, with all of their products not named Lucozade Sport already having had a plastic revamp. Although the factory has promised to use 30% rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) bottles for Lucozade Sport, the like of Ribena are at 100%. Moreover, Ribena uses 100% recyclable sleeves for their bottles, whereas Lucozade Sport is only committed to 50%. These numbers really need to change.
Although I’ve said that the packaging for Lucozade Sport is one of its biggest brand strengths, the reputation of Lucozade Sport for energising Great Britain has led to it becoming a household name in the sports charity sector. This has allowed Lucozade to partner with a plethora of labour, charity and employability schemes that all contribute to a sustainable social future. An example of this is FairShare which tackles hunger and food waste in the UK, and has enabled Lucozade to uphold a ‘zero waste to landfill’ policy since 2008. In regards to the actual labour conditions in the production process of Lucozade Sport, the Lucozade Ribena Suntory is very opaque, but equally there has been little negative news coming out of its facilities. A bit more transparency with this would go a long way.