Summer and beer go quite well together in just about any culture. What started as a ritual in ancient societies including Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China has evolved to an annual US$300 billion global industry.
With such a huge industry comes what some would argue are immense social and environmental costs. Obviously there are the societal effects of excessive drinking. But beer is also a resource intensive product—estimates suggests it takes an average of 4 barrels of water to create 1 barrel of beer. Then you add the energy required to haul beer, especially if it is imported: which of course is easy to overlook as we troll for our favorite international or eclectic brews at the local market or liquor store. Finally, those magic ingredients, hops, often are raised using large amounts of pesticides, though the amount of toxins that actually end up in the final product are debatable.
But preaching about buying local or vetting the sustainability of brewskies will always fall on deaf ears, as one of the joys of travel is discovering the local brews (or craving the brands one left behind), and then trying to find that favorite beer upon returning home. Imported beers are here to stay. So what can be done to mitigate the industry’s effects?
MillerCoors, the second largest brewer in the United States that has a portfolio of over 60 brands, is making more changes in its operations as the company and its competitors grow aware of the various sustainability issues involved with beer production. The company recently released its 2010 Sustainability Report, discussing its accomplishments while outlining future goals related to the company’s labor, environmental, and social impacts.
Tom Long, MillerCoors’ President and Chief Commercial Officer, claims the company’s commitment to sustainability harkens back to the traditions set by Adolph Coors and Frederick Miller, the founders of the companies that eventually merged into the US$7.6 beer giant. By 2015, MillerCoors’ goal is to achieve a 3.5-water-to-beer production ratio, which one brewery in Texas already has exceeded. The company’s annual energy consumption decreased 3.6% in 2009, with a target of 15% that MillerCoors wants to reach by 2015.
Waste reduction is also a long term goal of the brewing giant. By 2015, the company plans to reduce waste to landfill by 15%, and two of its eight breweries are zero-waste facilities. The company also claims that 99% of brewery waste at its plants is reused and recycled, from grain to yeast to paperboard.
More long term goals are on the horizon. Aware that much of its environmental impact lies in the supply chain, MillerCoors plans on working with suppliers on matters related to water, energy, and packaging, while spending US$2.5 billion to diversify its supplier base. Renewable energy will have a greater presence in powering its facilities, while MillerCoors will fold transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions into its EPA Climate Leaders goal. Finally, the company is assessing its water supply throughout its operations, concentrating on water-scarce regions.
Other long term goals are vague, such as its labor-related pledges (doesn’t everyone promise to hire diverse talent, and 360-feedback is the norm for monitoring employee performance, right?). The report is full of nicely-written prose, but lacks the key performance indicators that other companies like UPS disclose in allowing readers to understand lucidly what the company means by “performance,” “goals,” and other buzzwords. Keep in mind, however, that the company as it is structured now is only two years old—perhaps we will see more frankness and transparency in future reports, which most likely will not occur until MillerCoors adopts a reporting framework like that of the Global Reporting Initiative.
The 2010 Sustainability Report for MillerCoors is available here.