Brewing and the Environment
by Susan O'Connor
Hello to Bob and all the readers of my favorite website, BeerNexus (if I
flatter them maybe they'll publish my article). While there are many
great articles on BeerNexus, too few focus on some of the
environmental aspects of brewing. As you might have guessed, I love
beers but I'm also a big environmentalist. Sometimes the two aren't as
compatible as you might thing.
I was disappointed to learn that the beer-brewing process is sometimes
incredibly water-intensive. Beer is a global business behemoth, a
US$300 billion market, with a huge water footprint, often in regions hit
by water scarcity.
The good news is that many small local companies and even some
large multinational beer companies have 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 use.
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. Some estimates say it takes 300 total
litres of water to make one litre of beer, others 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 (even if you don't like their beer you
have to give them their due) 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 (now it stands
at 4.04). One AB-Inbev bottling plant in Cartersville, Georgia already
boasts a water efficiency ratio of 3.04. The big guys are definitely on
the right side of this issue, if you ask me.
Nevertheless, with 98% of their beers' water footprint occurring before
the brewing process begins, sustainability experts and community
activists are urging all 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 many breweries' sustainability agendas.
One SABMiller subsidiary tried a simple retrofit of an irrigation pump so
to disperse water closer to the ground at a low pressure. The results:
450,000 gallons of water are being 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,
breweries must ramp up to meet the mounting challenge of the
increasing global demand of beer by using less water.
Lastly that brings me to the need for clean water. Clean water is
essential to more than great-tasting beer –- it's critical for public health
and the health of a wide range of industries. Responsible safeguards
protect our product from upstream pollution and help us protect our
downstream neighbors. To that end, many craft breweries and their
bigger brethren here in the USA have taken the Clean Water Pledge to
actively support and lobby for restoring the Clean Water Act's
safeguards for critical streams and wetlands.
Guess I should get off my soapbox now Bob. Time to have a beer
from my favorite brewery, New Belgium, which in addition to making
great stuff, has been rated #1 for its unique use of water treatment
processes to generate electricity for the brewery, sun tubes for
lighting, and repurposing brewing by-products.
Thanks..... and please recycle those empty beer bottles and cans!
Susan many thanks for sending in you article. You've got us all thinking
about what we can do to join with those brewers who are working hard
to preserve our precious natural resources . Great job!
I'd like to invite everyone to send me their own columns about anything
related to beer just as Susan did.I'll select the best ones and publish
them here. So join in and get writing!
|BeerNexus proudly presents
"the ombudsman of beer"
Bob and Friends Speak of Beer......
|Want to be a "friend of Bob"
and write a guest column?
Just e-mail your article to