What can brewers do for sustainability

Whether brewed in tiny microbreweries or mammoth bottling plants, beer is often a national icon, from Peja in Kosovo to OB in Korea. A global US$300 billion (GDP£187.5 billion) market, beer also has a huge water footprint, and is frequently brewed in regions hit by water scarcity.

Whether they are small local companies or large multinational firms, many beer companies succeed with sustainability efforts from energy efficiency to the reuse and recycling of beer ingredients and packaging. The most important and yet challenging metric, however, is the reduction of a brewing company's water footprint.

From the cultivation of the barley and hops necessary to brew the drink to the final bottling of the product, it takes an exponential amount of water to make beer. The UK consultancy Water Strategies estimates it takes 300 total litres of water to make one litre of beer. A WWF/SABMiller study suggests ratios anywhere from 60 to 180 to one.

Whatever the total water requirement may be, brewing companies have more control over beer's water footprint once raw materials arrive at a plant. The average bottling plant's water footprint is a ratio of about five to six litres to one litre of beer, but that rate is in decline. Companies including SABMiller (this hub's sponsor) have promised to increase their bottling plants' water efficiency. In South Africa, SAB's water-to-beer ratio stands at about 4.2, that is down from 4.6 in 2008 and the company promises a 3.5 ratio in 2015. Anheuser Busch-Inbev, the global giant that owns Budweiser, Beck's, and Stella Artois, also has an aggressive goal to lower its water footprint worldwide to a 3.5 ratio by 2012 (now it stands at 4.04). One AB-Inbev bottling plant in Cartersville, Georgia already boasts a water efficiency ratio of 3.04.

Nevertheless, with 98% of that pilsner's or lager's water footprint occurring before the brewing process begins, sustainability experts and community activists are urging beer companies to lean on their agricultural suppliers to reduce water consumption. The beer companies have responded and are now more proactive in addressing water issues that will only fester in the coming decades. As is the case with the bottling companies Coca-Cola and Pepsi, water scarcity in developing economies is a huge challenge for brewing companies. While a beer's brand may have a loyal following in regions as diverse as South Africa or China, it only takes one drought or water shortage to foment local anger when these plants take on an even larger share of a community's water supply. Forget water recycling projects or new pasteurising techniques: the agricultural supply chain is now on breweries' sustainability agendas.

One brewing company that has worked on water efficiency projects beyond their bottling plants' doors is MillerCoors, a SABMiller subsidiary. The company partners with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and works with barley farmers in Idaho to streamline irrigation technologies and to establish best practices for water conservation. The Silver Creek project is part nature preserve and part agricultural laboratory. Trees were strategically planted to keep creeks cooler, which supports the local trout population. Vegetation grows along stream banks, which prevents loose soil and pollutants from entering the water. The simple retrofit of an irrigation pump now disperses water closer to the ground at a low pressure. The results: 450,000 gallons (1700 cubic metres) of water are saved daily. Projects like this not only build trust within local communities, but can ameliorate the impact a large brewery can have on a local community when a drought hits – crucial because a large bottling plant can consume 10 to 30% of a municipality's water supply.

From more efficient water harvesting to scaled wastewater recycling, more projects like that of InBev's or SAB's must ramp up to help beer companies meet a mounting challenge: to meet the increasing global demand of beer by using less water.

An interesting way to solve this problem would be a globally organised beer water saving scheme (WaterSafe(c)) whereby beer makers band together in their regions and collude (almost hesitant to use collusion in the positive) to make sure the farmers who supply them with hops and barley are making sure that they are managing their ecology and water shed areas properly, ie making sure that they are farming in a sustainable manner. Would this not be a great market differentiator for micro-breweries to get together and start a water saving influence brand by collectively helping and putting pressure on their suppliers to reduce their water consumption and protect their water supplies. A WaterSafe(c) label to signify that the beer you are drinking is part of this collective be the differentiator. Lets do it :)

Sustainability is about co-operation, passion and loving what you do more than the money that you make out of it!

Just as a side note but perhaps someone who would seriously love the above idea has anyone read brewing up a business by Sam Calagione? I am downloading this onto my kindle as I write this and seriously looking forward to the read, I have watched the show brewmasters on discovery and I think the way he thinks about and runs his business is truly legendary and embodies what makes me passionate about being an entrepreneur. His motive is not how big can he get but rather how great can he make his business even if that means leaving some money on the table every year. Life should not be all about profit but rather passion and enthusiasm for what you do, I think with this attitude our world would be in a much more sustainable space.

This video is seriously long so perhaps you want to ear mark it for the weekend but it really is worth a watch, this guy is seriously inspirational, I think we need him on our side in the sustainability battle!

www.inc.com

www.guardian.co.uk

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