• National Drinking Water Alliance

Healthy beverage policies that promote tap water optimize environmental, health benefits


Healthy Beverage Initiatives (HBIs), such as those on the ten campuses of the University of California (UC), aim to reduce consumption of SSBs to improve both human and planetary health.


A new paper by members of the UC Santa Barbara Healthy Beverage Initiative Research Group (HBIRG) investigates the potential for HBIs to benefit the environment through an environmental life cycle assessment using data on all beverages sold on that campus during one calendar year. Of the total 940,773 liters sold, 67 percent were SSBs, 22 percent were non-SSBs and 11 percent were bottled water.


Key findings from analyses of the greenhouse gas emissions, fresh water use and plastic pollution of both the beverage liquid contents and the containers for 12 different “scenarios” (combinations of liquid beverages—SSBs, non-SSBs, bottled water and tap water) and 5 container types include:

  • Liquid contents were responsible for a much larger proportion of the total greenhouse gas emissions and fresh water use than containers—accounting for 68 percent of climate impact and 97 percent of water impact.

  • The scenario that replaced all other beverages with tap water in reusable containers eliminated almost all environmental impacts.

  • Scenarios that reduced SSBs but increased beverages other than tap water did not reduce environmental impacts nearly as much, and in some cases, even increased them.

SSBs sold on campus contained 42,649 kg of added sugar, and the average first year student at UC Santa Barbara consumed SSBs with 60 percent of the recommended amount for all added sugar in the diet. Other research has shown that the high health care costs of SSB-related diseases have large environmental impacts.


According to study director Professor David Cleveland, “Our study suggests that to optimize potential environmental benefits, HBIs need to emphasize reducing consumption of all commercial beverages while increasing the availability of tap water, which will also optimize health benefits.”


PAPER: Meisterling, K., Vo, J., Garvey, K.A., Brown, H.E., Tumbleson, M.T., and Cleveland, D.A. 2022. Healthy beverage initiatives: A case study of scenarios for optimizing their environmental benefits on a university campus. Cleaner and Responsible Production. Open access article available on line: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clrc.2022.100049.


Article contributed by David Cleveland, UC Santa Barbara. For more information contact cleveland [at] ucsb.edu.

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