Energy Drinks

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 11 energy drink brands.

We also look at caffeine, plastic, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Gusto Organic and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying energy drinks:

  • Is it organic? Made from petroleum, chemical pesticides threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic cola to avoid ingredients grown with these chemicals.

  • Is it Fairtrade? From the sugar to the flavourings, many of the agricultural ingredients in energy drinks come with serious workers rights issues attached. Looking for a Fairtrade drinks will ensure that the person growing these ingredients will receive a fair wage and working conditions.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are both organic:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying energy drinks:

  • Is it in a plastic bottle? The plastic in our oceans could circle the planet 400 times. It is threatening marine ecosystems and contributing to climate change. Look for cans or glass bottles to cut down on waste and resources used.

  • Profits over people? This industry includes some companies that are notorious for the human rights abuses in their supply chains - from accusations of murdering unionists to siphoning water from drought-ridden communities. Look for a Fairtrade drinks instead.

Companies to avoid

We would recommend avoiding the most famous company in this guide: The Coca-Cola Company. The multinational has been accused extracting drinking water from drought-ridden areas; of violence against trade unionists in South America; and of marketing its products to children under 12. It partially or fully owns the energy drinks:

  • Powerade
  • Monster

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Gusto Organic Energy Drinks [O]

Company Profile: Gusto Organic Ltd
16

Scheckter's Organic Energy [O]

Company Profile: SCHECKTER'S ORGANIC BEVERAGES LTD
15

Rockstar energy drink

Company Profile: AG Barr plc
12.5

Red Bull Energy Drink

Company Profile: Red Bull GmbH
7.5

Monster Energy Drinks

Company Profile: Monster Beverage Corporation
7

Relentless Energy Drink

Company Profile: Monster Beverage Corporation
7

Lucozade Energy Drink

Company Profile: Lucozade Ribena Suntory Limited
4.5

Sainsbury's energy drinks

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Powerade energy drink

Company Profile: Coca-Cola Company, The
2

Tesco energy drinks

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda energy drinks

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

While the volume of soft drinks consumed each year is in decline, energy drinks continue to show a 19% growth since 2012 to 669 million litres in 2017.[1]

We did not rank sports drink brands within this report as they are generally caffeine free and very specific in their function.

Sports drinks are often bought by health conscious consumers as opposed to individuals needing an energy boost. However, the distinction between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.

We have separate guides to soft drinks (including carbonated drinks, juice drinks, flavoured waters and squashes) and a separate cola-flavoured guide because they have a whole market of their own, accounting for 59% of fizzy drinks consumed in 2016. 

Caffeine in Energy Drinks

A 250 ml can of Red Bull contains about the same amount as a cup of coffee or two colas. (A cola actually contains less than a cup of tea.)

Consumed in moderation it is fine, but in excess it can cause insomnia, nervousness, headaches, and heart palpitations. Caffeine can also be addictive. While some feel the effects more than others, children are particularly sensitive. Any drink in the UK with more than 15 g per 100 ml must be labelled as ‘high caffeine content’.

One warning-area is energy drinks mixed with alcohol. The combination can create a sense of ‘wide-awake drunkenness’, leading people to underestimate how drunk they are, and increasing the chance of falls, fights and accidents.

If you want that caffeine shot without the add-on issues around soft drinks, cold coffee could be an option. Otherwise James White advertises its Zingers as “a delicious caffeine-free alternative to an espresso to wake you up”. All the brands in our energy drinks table contain caffeine.

Sugar Content

The health issues associated with sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks are well known: tooth cavities, weight gain and associated type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The 2018 sugar tax is expected to have a negative effect on both value and volume sales, although the overall market is forecast to have returned to growth by 2021.[1]

We compared the sugar content in best buy and recommended products, alongside their bestselling, sugar containing counterparts. 

Image: Sugar content energy drinks sugar tax
Key:
The colour code is by tax bracket.
- The red drinks contain over 8g of sugar per 100ml, and will be taxed at a rate of 24p / litre.
- The amber drinks contain 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, and will be taxed at a rate of 18p / litre.
- Those in green contain under 5g and therefore won’t be taxed.

Read about the sugar tax and and lobbying against sugar controls in our guide to Soft Drinks.  

Plastic Packaging

12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, killing millions of marine animals. We recommend glass bottles over plastic, and Gusto is the only brand that only uses glass bottles.

The comparison between glass bottles and aluminium is a much more of an even match. Aluminium is lighter than glass and therefore will have lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. However, only 45% of aluminium cans are recycled in the UK, compared to 68% of glass bottles. Schekter's only uses aluminium cans. 

We cover more about the issue of plastic in our guide to bottled water.

Company behind the brand

Gusto Organic Ltd.’s products come top of our table for both colas and energy drinks. The Naturally Slim Cola is the company’s only product that did not gain a positive Product Sustainability mark for organic certification.

The company explained that the drink “uses organic stevia to sweeten which is permitted everywhere in the world in organic beverages except the EU”. Its Real Cola is also certified Fairtrade, and received an extra mark for this.

Want more?

See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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References

  1. Mintel Report, Sports and Energy Drinks, August 2017