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AB InBev: A Lean, Mean, Water-Efficient Brewing Machine

Words by Leon Kaye

Last week AB InBev released its annual CSR report.
Last week Anheuser-Busch InBev released its 2011 corporate social responsibility report. This latest annual disclosure by the beer giant comes as brewing companies have been touting responsible drinking for years, and more recently they have been paying more attention to social and environmental responsibility.

For all beverage companies, water stewardship is of increasing importance as they operate in regions where freshwater stocks are becoming depleted. As is the case with its competitors, AB InBev is driving down its beer to water ratio incrementally towards its goal of 3.5 hectoliter (hl) of water per finished product. The challenges AB InBev faces are similar to food and beverage companies that compete with local communities and businesses for reliable sources of water.

Highlights of the past year, from recycling to clean energy, include:

Improved water use: Last year AB InBev’s average water consumption was 3.71 hectoliters of water to one hectoliter of beer (“hl/hl” in industry terms). The overall ratio for 2011 is an eight percent drop from 2010 and almost 14 percent from 2009. In North America, its water performance was 3.5 hl/hl, the number that AB InBev has set for its worldwide performance target. The company consumed 1.45 billion hectoliters of water in 2011, half of which is from municipal sources. Of that water, the company says 62 percent is returned to local watersheds in the same condition at which it was first tapped.

Energy efficiency: All that water required for those frothy brews required huge amounts of energy. AB InBev views its energy performance through the prism of energy use per hectoliter, and to that end the company has seen an 8.7 percent improvement in that metric since 2009. Meanwhile, the company drew seven percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. Breweries in California and New Jersey benefit from solar power installations, while plants in Brazil use biogas. Over 80 percent of the company’s heat generation needs comes from natural gas and coal combined.

Waste diversion: Over 98 percent of the materials AB InBev consumes in its worldwide operations is recycled, composted or used as fuel--even shaving cream. The company reports that 118 of its plants have achieved zero waste status. And its operations in Brazil have launched a pilot PET to PET recycling program to keep waste out of landfills and to implement a reliable stream of packaging.

Community Impact: AB InBev employs 116,000 people around the world, many of which benefit from aggressive training programs while they are encouraged to volunteer within their communities. From education programs in China and Argentina to Habitat Humanity building initiatives in the U.S., current activism amongst its employees pairs well with Anheuser Busch’s long tradition of corporate philanthropy in North America.

For sustainability mavens, what AB InBev includes in its report is as compelling as what the company omits. Little is mentioned about how the company works with its agricultural suppliers, save a paragraph, which is surprising since farming has a huge impact on a company’s environmental footprint. One of the report’s chapters on the environment touts the use of “only the finest natural ingredients,” a dubious term to advocates who are leery of the use of GMOs in food products.

But overall, AB InBev provides a detailed report and web portal tracking of its performance is detailed and frank. You can view the entire report here.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy AB InBev.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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