Beer Makers Are Exploring Ways to Save Water

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Beer Makers Tapping Into Sustainable Water Efficiency Goals

bna.com, September 1, 2017

Most beer drinkers aren’t thinking about water when they raise a glass of brew to their lips. But brewers are.

So the nation’s largest brewers, including AB InBev, Molson Coors, and New Belgium Brewing Co., want to save on water without sacrificing the suds.

Climate change, longer drought cycles, and dwindling water resources have prompted them to incorporate advanced water-efficiency measures into their latest sustainability plans. The chief goal? Brewers want to reduce the amount of water it takes to produce a barrel of beer.

Our ‘Lifeblood’

“Water is the lifeblood of our business,” Katie Wallace, program manager for corporate social responsibility at New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo., told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 29. “We can’t do what we do without it.”

Wallace said New Belgium’s water use ratio is right around 4 barrels of water to 1 barrel of beer, in part because the company produces hoppier beers than most brewers, has a larger variety of beers overall, and has consumers with a preference for bottles over kegs, all of which require more water.

Production improvements have the brewer on track to get to a 3.5 to 1 ratio by 2020, she said. The company is also testing the reuse of treated process water for industrial applications at its Fort Collins Brewery, she said.

Fire and Drought

The Fort Collins brewhouse is susceptible to fires and drought, given its location in the semi-arid West, she said. A 2012 fire six miles from the brewery caused such environmental damage that the company wasn’t able to pull water from the Cache La Poudre River watershed for two years, she said.

“With the drought in California, breweries there had to reduce their beermaking due to water restriction mandates,” she said. “That’s not good for your business.”

Molson Coors Brewing Co. included a water-efficiency target of 22 percent in its recently released 2025 sustainability goals—saving 1.68 billion gallons of water globally. The brewer has a target of achieving a 2.8 water-to-beer ratio, Kim Marotta, global senior director of corporate responsibility for the company in Milwaukee, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Water is the main ingredient in our product and is critical to everything we do,” she said. “We want to be one of the most water-efficient brewers in the world.”

Agricultural Footprint

Agriculture represents the vast majority of water used in beer making, which is why Molson Coors set a goal of improving water-use efficiency in the agricultural supply chain and malting operations by 10 percent—a volume equal to all the water used in all 25 of the company’s breweries worldwide, she said.

Marotta said better water efficiency is directly connected to the company’s bottom line.

“We’ve done watershed risk assessments for all our breweries, trying to identify areas that are water scarce or under stress,” she said. “Climate change is a factor. When you look at some long-term scenarios, some of the models are bad. And if there’s no water, there’s no beer.”

She said part of its stewardship of water resources with barley farmers is to “keep water in areas that are facing stress.”

Zero Waste

The company’s 2017 sustainability plan—unveiled Aug. 16—included goals of achieving zero waste to landfills across all its major manufacturing facilities and reducing absolute carbon emissions by 50 percent within its direct business.

AB InBev, maker of Bud Light, the best-selling beer in the U.S., met its 2017 water usage goal in 2016, reducing its ratio of water used to beer produced down to 3.14 to 1, Rachel Tulchin, spokeswoman for the company in New York, told Bloomberg BNA.

In the company’s 2016 “Better World Report,” Tony Milikin, the company’s chief of Sustainability and Procurement, said AB InBev recognizes that water is more than just an essential ingredient in its products—it’s a precious resource for the economic, social, and environmental well-being of people around the planet.

“We recognize the need to act as a responsible steward of water in the areas where we operate but we also recognize that it will take more than one organization, company, or government to tackle the growing water challenges,” he said.

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