From Wolaver’s to Dogfish Head Ale, walking down the refrigerator aisle at your local natural or organic grocery store, it’s easy to find a smattering of green beers dotting the section. What one might not necessarily think of talking about organics or sustainability and beer, though, is Anheuser-Busch. However, that is a perception the beer giant has been trying to change for the past couple of years.
Recently, BusinessPundit.com named Anheuser-Busch as one of the 25 big companies that are going green. And even the environment section of the company’s website boasts its history of environmental stewardship dating back to its founder recycling leftover grain from the brewing process for cattle feed back in the 1800′s. Yet, what does it really mean for the InBev empire’s newest addition to be green?
Thinner, Lighter Cans
By trimming 1/8″ off of each of their cans, the company was able to save 21 million pounds of metal per year, an accomplishment that Paul Hawken highlights in Natural Capitalism.
An Ethic of Recycling
Anheuser-Busch Recycling Corp., one of its subsidiaries, recycles more than 27 million aluminum cans annually, a number the company claims to be 25% more than the amount it puts to market.
In 2006, Anheuser released two organic beers – Wild Hop Lager and Stone Mill Pale Ale – making it one of the first major beer producers to enter into the market.
The company also entered into partnership with the Organic Farming Research Foundation in 2006, “to help heighten awareness of the organic farming industry,” according Anheuser’s website.
King of BERS
Likely the most interesting aspects of the company’s push to green are many of the conservation practices that have been put into place in its factories, in particular in Fairfield, CA and Houston, TX.
According to greenbizjournals.com, solar panels and Bio-Energy Recovery Systems (BERS) – technology that converts brewing wastewater into fuel – will provide the Fairfield brewery with its power. Houston’s brewery will use biogas produced at a nearby landfill.
Currently 9 out of 12 of its breweries, as well as the one in Wuhan, China employ BERS. According to the company, last year, the energy BERS generated for its breweries was enough to heat more than 25,000 homes
These initiatives put Budweiser’s brewer on track to meet a 2010 goal of getting more than 15 percent of its energy for brewing from renewable resources.
In addition, all of the water that is used to clean its brewery equipment in Ft. Collins, CO and Jacksonville, FLA is shipped to nearby farms in an “environmentally-sound and energy efficient method” to provide water and nutrients to fuel and food crops, such as canola and alfalfa, that the beer manufacturer utilizes throughout various stages of its business.
Too Much Foam?
Despite all of these efforts, there are many opponents of Anheuser-Busch’s business practices, claiming that even if all of its beers were produced by alternative energy, for example, it still wouldn’t be a “green” company. Which does raise a good point. The company holds 48.5% of the market share in the United States, and for how many millions pints of beer that are consumed, an exponentially greater amount of resources are required to grow, harvest, and transport just the barley and hops that are needed to make beer.
So then, does that mean all of Anheuser-Busch’s efforts up to now are merely small band-aids on a much larger, inherently destructive business? Or does it serve as an analogy to the green movement at large? Did it recognize its unsustainable practices across many different levels, and is now striving to take steps – however incremental – to limit its impact on the world around us?