AB InBev Closes in on Ambitious Water Reduction Target

AB InBev Closes in on Ambitious Water Reduction Target

Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev set aggressive 2012 goals last year with the aim of becoming the world's greenest brewer.

One year in, the company has reduced water consumption 6 percent, largely driven by employee engagement and a systemic approach to how it operates its facilities. The results put AB InBev, the producer of beers such as Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's, on sound footing to reach its overarching 2012 goal of using 3.5 hectoliters of water for every hectoliter of production, compared to 4.04 hectoliters in 2010.

"High-quality water is really fundamental to what we do," said Hugh Share, senior global director of AB InBev's Beer & Better World division. "It's a principal ingredient in our beers and soft drinks, and used throughout the process for things like cleaning, cooling and steam production. As the leading brewer in the world, we're very aware of our responsibility to use natural resources wisely."

In a phone interview, Share and Greg Kellerman, the company's global technology director, described how AB InBev's Voyager Plant Optimization (VPO) program is driving efficiency in the company's facilities while also providing uniform processes, metrics and standards.  

Once senior managers define and set targets, those targets become key performance indicators for the company, cascading down to all levels of employees. Management teams engage workers to achieve the goals, often through a structured benchmarking program within VPO that allows the company to communicate best practices across sites, according to Kellerman.

"That benchmarking process is extremely important to the company to the point that each zone or region identifies the best best practices each year, and then those best practices are actually presented to the senior-most management of our company and of our regions," Kellerman said. "The very best of those best (practices) are then awarded and communicated to all of our facilities."

One of its successes to reduce water involved a goal to use reclaimed water in all industrial cooling towers, which are used in many facilities for refrigeration.

"In our cleaning processes, we have some very clean rinse water sources," Kellerman said. "We collected those rinse water sources and then used that water in our industrial cooling towers instead of using fresh water, so we get another use out of that water."

Already some of its facilities are nearing or have exceeded AB InBev's 2012 water goal, including a plant in Cartersville, Ga., that had no choice but to find innovative ways to use less water following a high-profile drought in 2007. As a result of its efforts, the facility has become the most water-efficient site in the company, achieving a water use rate in 2010 of 3.04 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production.

To further engage workers, AB InBev took advantage of World Environment Day to inspire employees to take on 567 environmental and volunteer projects in 21 countries.

"We more than doubled the number of projects from 2009," Share said. "Last year, half of those initiatives focused on either in-plant or community water initiatives."

The engagement component has been a surprisingly easy part of the company's sustainability strategy.

"I think if you asked our employees, they would tell you they're proud to work on environmental programs both in their plants and communities, and proud to help the environment and our business at the same time," Share said. "That has been a very easy thing for us to do is build this high-performance culture around Better World."

Environmental performance is one of three pillars comprising AB InBev's Better World strategy. The other pillars include promoting responsible drinking and engaging local communities.

The company also reduced energy use 3.7 percent in 2010, compared to 2009 levels on a per hectoliter basis, AB InBev said today. The company plans to reduce energy use 10 percent by late 2012, relative to the 2009 baseline.

Photo CC-licensed by Jenny Downing.