Anheuser-Busch InBev: Less water, more beer

The world's biggest beer brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev has adopted an aggressive series of five-year environmental goals, calling for further reductions in water and energy consumption and setting its first formal targets for packaging reductions and eco-friendly coolers.

The seven new commitments come just four months after AB InBev revealed it had surpassed previous three-year commitments for water, energy and waste.

The Belgian-based brewer already has saved enough water to produce about 25 billion cans of AB InBev beverages. Currently, it uses an average of 3.5 hectoliters of water for every hectoliter of production.

Now it is trying to squeeze more from the process: The new five-year goal aims to reach a global average of 3.2 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production. For those who like to visualize this sort of thing, that works out to the amount of water it would take to fill approximately 5,400 Olympic swimming pools.

The Carterville brewery in Georgia already has outstripped that goal: It uses just 2.8 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production.

To move toward that measure in other production facilities, the company is introducing water management measures in each of its key barley growing regions through partnerships with local stakeholders and growers. In addition, it is introducing watershed protection measures at all of its facilities in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Peru and the United States.

Heightened attention deeper into the supply chain

The new commitments are notable for their global scope and because they also focus far more attention on encouraging sustainable operations throughout AB InBev's entire supply chain, according to AB InBev executives.

"Our approach recognizes that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to improve sustainability," said AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito. "The key will be to leverage the experience and expertise of our colleagues globally, foster a collective approach through partnerships with local stakeholders and continue to scale best practices across our company."

One example comes from southern Idaho, where grower Timm Adams has worked with AB InBev to shift his barley production to the winter season. Because the crop can use the natural moisture from the rain and snow that falls during that time frame -- it requires 20 percent less water while producing a greater yield than other strains -- his operation can decrease its purchases from the local irrigation district, Adams said. Overall, the load on the local estuary is also decreased.

Next page: Partnerships save money

Top photo of beer pouring into a glass by anyamuse via Shutterstock.

Bottom photo of farmer Timm Adams courtesy of AB InBev.