The beverage firm AB InBev has crafted a good reputation for decarbonizing its own operations. Now the company’s Budweiser brand is demonstrating how corporate leaders can build sustainability outwards in order to affect the carbon footprint operations along their value chains.
Last week, Budweiser announced the global launch of an initiative it calls The Energy Collective. The aim is to encourage local pubs to take advantage of renewable energy resources in their area for their electricity needs.
Budweiser has been conducting the program on a large-scale pilot basis involving 2,000 pubs in Brazil and Ireland. Evidently, the trial was a success. The new announcement expands the field of locations to music venues and stadiums as well as bars. The goal is to have 250,000 locations in Brazil alone using renewable-sourced electricity by 2025.
Next steps include another pilot program in Colombia to be launched this year. Chile, Uruguay and the U.K. are among the countries next on Budweiser’s renewable energy to-do list.
The idea seems simple enough. Through The Energy Collective, Budweiser will help connect locations that serve its beer with renewable energy assets. In Brazil, for example, the supplier is the startup Lemon Energia, which includes small-to-medium shops and restaurants in its portfolio as well as bars and other establishments.
Because the cost of renewable energy is continuing to fall, many business owners can expect a lower electricity rate when they register for Lemon Energia’s app-based service, which connects them to a nearby solar power installation.
In cases where the rates for emission-free electricity are higher, Budweiser suggests that The Energy Collective can help with affordability issues, though the company did not spell out that part of the plan in detail last week.
The Energy Collective initiative is especially significant because the public relations benefit could ripple out to influence other beverage companies, which are free to tout the clean power profile of venues that serve their products.
For Budweiser, it doesn’t matter if the venue serves other products from other companies. The point is to help decarbonize the value chain, not pick and choose among parts of that chain.
That propels The Global Energy Collective a step up from other corporate sustainability initiatives, which tend to be brand-centric.
In that regard, The Energy Collective is similar to the steps GM CEO Mary Barra has taken to ensure that electric vehicles have access to charging stations and renewable energy, too. GM’s initiatives in those areas are aimed at availability across the driving public. They are not exclusive to those who drive GM vehicles.
Another interesting angle has to do with regenerative farming, a set of agricultural practices that prioritize soil health and water conservation. Researchers are finding that arrays of solar panels can assist with both of those goals, by creating cool microclimates with partial shade under the solar panels.
As a result, the field of agrivoltaics has begun to gather steam. Instead of conventional solar arrays that replace farmland, agrivoltaic solar panels are raised to permit grazing, pollinator habitats and other agricultural uses to continue in and around the array.
To the extent that The Energy Collective helps stimulate the demand for new local solar arrays in rural areas, the regenerative farming trend could benefit local farmers.
AB InBev’s subsidiary, Anheuser-Busch, has already established a foothold in regenerative farming through a partnership with the company Indigo Ag, so it’s possible that solar energy could become intersect with The Energy Collective portfolio at some point.
Anhueser-Busch is also bringing non-drinkers into the conversation by promoting its use of zero emission trucks. The company has been building on its partnership with the electric bus and truck company BYD, and it has just started showcasing fuel cell electric trucks through the startup Nikola
Anheuser-Busch issued a pledge for 800 fuel cell trucks shortly after Nikola launched in 2018. After a rocky start, Nikola seems to have found its footing. The company delivered two of its zero emission trucks to Budweiser earlier this year for a three-month pilot run in California.
Between The Energy Collective and zero emission trucks, Budweiser is demonstrating that leading brands can make an impact if they think creatively and take advantage of new technologies.
One hundred years ago, Prohibition drove hundreds of U.S. brewers out of business, forcing others to reinvent themselves with new products and services. Now that the climate crisis has posed yet another existential threat, industry leaders are calling that spirit of innovation into action once again
The new emphasis on value chain decarbonization is only just beginning to gather steam, but programs like The Energy Collective demonstrate that the impacts can be swift and significant.
Image credit: Victor Freitas via Pexel
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.
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