Brewing and The Environment

Brewing and The Environment

Business and Environment

Corporate Research Paper

May 7, 2021

Corporate social responsibility is a must for virtually all businesses in 2021, so I asked as an avid fan of the brewing industry, what are brewing companies doing to be responsible towards social and environmental issues we face today? With the nature of brewing and the high levels of water that are used and need, can these companies be sustainable? With greenwashing, different sized businesses all around, and confusing data or lack thereof, these questions are quite difficult to answer. Despite that, and for brewing’s sake, I decided to take a crack at it. We will start by talking about some smaller companies and work our way up to the biggest in the world.

First, let us talk about Aqua ViTea based out of Middlebury, Vermont. Aqua ViTea might be a company you are unfamiliar with but has been growing in popularity and distribution since its start in 2007. Aqua ViTea makes kombucha, both normal which nonalcoholic and hard kombucha. Kombucha is fermented tea drink that has probiotics in it, low levels of sugar, and is naturally fizzy. Not only does Aqua ViTea have a focus on sustainability, but they also focus on keeping their kombucha (the nonalcoholic kind) alcohol free by having a verified alcohol extraction. They then take the alcohol and make a vodka out of it. This is what they say:

“Our mission since the beginning has been to sustain and cultivate the core foundation of healthy, sustainable communities through a series of interrelated actions and principles. We evaluate the environmental impact of our business decisions to remain mindful of how they will affect all aspects of living and life. We seek to source the finest quality ingredients and work with regional providers whenever feasible. We work to create opportunities not only for our team, but for you, that will make a positive difference in our and your food consumption, lifestyle choices, and career paths. We recognize and remind ourselves and you to acknowledge the responsibility to contribute and give back to the community.”

            Unfortunately, regardless of their solid products and mission, Aqua ViTea was unable to provide me with any actual environmental or financial data This did not help me understand the legitimacy of their sustainability. I was left with one unanswered question, is Aqua ViTea too small, as a company in scale or financially, to prioritize tracking and minimizing their environmental impact or do they simply not care enough to do so? I have no way of knowing the truth and cannot create a comparison.

Similarly, Nobl Beverages, out of Seabrook, NH was unable to give me data. They stated, “I am sorry to inform you that we are just too busy recovering from Covid to take on another project.” Although covid has been a tough time, it should not be used as a reason to not share environmental data, unless you do not have the data to share. Nobl Beverages, started as a cold brewed coffee company in 2015. Since then, they have grown to diversify their products but more importantly run a sizable co-packing operation that other beverage companies around the region use to brew or bottle their products.

Next, we have New Belgium Brewing. New Belgium is a brewing company whose sole focus was almost just about sustainability. On a craft brewing scale, this business was on the big side owning popular brands such as Fat Tire and Voodoo Ranger. New Belgium would post a yearly sustainability report that was beautifully done, until they were bought out by an international conglomerate. The last sustainability report I can find was in 2018 and unfortunately, that was not enough for me to conduct my project data on. They claimed to be 100% employee owned in the year of 2018. New Belgium Brewing is a certified B corporation, a one percent for the planet brewery, and a place that seems to take corporate social responsibility ultra-seriously. The brewery donated sixteen million dollars to nonprofits.

More impressive are some of New Belgium Brewing’s environmental feats. They were a certified zero waste business in their 2018 report and a bicycle friendly business. The business diversified their energy sources using wind, solar, and biogas. They were the first wind-powered brewery in the US. Of course, the numbers tell the story just as well. New Belgium brewing said this about their energy intensive (a metric I was only able to find with one other business):

“Of course, the more beer we make the more water and energy we use. To a point... because all factories require a baseline amount of energy and water (lights on, building heated, equipment cleaned), regardless of how much the equipment is used. With a new brewery online, we're not using the full capacity of our breweries, and are therefore less efficient. This is the primary reason these 2017 metrics are moving in the wrong direction.”

Not only do they have to data to back this up, but they are also transparent enough to share this publicly and at the time they published this report they were not a publicly traded business. I feel like there is no greenwashing bone in their body. That number went from 125 mj/hl to 158 mj/hl. That stands for megajoules of energy produced per hectoliter of beer produced. Only, 0.2% of their waste goes into the landfill. In 2017 they sent only 68 g/hl of waste to the landfill compared to 86 in 2014. Unfortunately, there water intensity metric was a letdown compared the bigger breweries. They had 4.62 hl of water per hl of beer. They believed that this also lost efficiency due to their new brewery not being dialed in. Lastly, New Belgium Brewing reduced their greenhouse gas emissions to 17.7kg of CO2e emitted per hl of beer. Comparing that number to the other businesses would also be hard to do. This four-page report might be a little on the small side which makes it lack some data, but it makes up for itself in user friendliness.

Boston Beer Company owns of some very popular brands such as Samuel Adams, Twisted Tea, Truly, and Angry Orchard, talks about sustainability but has no data to back. As a publicly traded company and the largest brewery stationed out of New England, they should have no excuses when it comes to tracking posting environmental data. But for Boston Beer, I do not believe it has anything to do with greenwashing. Instead, I believe that Boston Beer just lacks a focus on sustainability and needs to reconsider this as they progress as a company. They do though talk about sustainability on their website on less than a page. Their focus seems to lie on reducing waste. They state:

“As a company, we recycle and reuse many of our materials. In Massachusetts and New York, Samuel Adams works with its distributors to collect, clean, and refill its glass bottles. All scrap glass generated from our bottling operations is sent to a glass recycler. We collect Samuel Adams beer beyond its freshness date and recycle materials where possible. We recycle packaging materials, including old or defective corrugated paper packaging containers, plastic shrink-wrap, and plastic banding, which we send to local recycling facilities. Our breweries refurbish damaged wooden pallets that are returned to us by our wholesalers. Additionally, we also aggressively recycle our brewing byproduct -- our spent grain and yeast is sent to local dairy farmers for use as animal feed or soil fertilizers and we’ve invested in carbon dioxide (CO2) recovery systems that allow us to capture and reuse CO2 for carbonation and other brewery related processes.”

This all sounds great. I believe that they have some great programs going on and do not have any reason to suspect that Boston Beer Company is greenwashing, but with out the data to understand the real impacts we will not know the success of these programs.

Lastly, we will talk about the last three businesses. These are some of the biggest breweries in the world and the companies I was able to find enough data to report on in my final project. Molson Coors is the fifth largest brewery, Heineken being the second largest, and AB InBev being the largest brewery in the entire world. All these companies are multinational conglomerates that make more beer than we can even comprehend. These businesses put on a big persona that they take their roles of corporate social responsibility seriously but given their size and lengthy reports it was quite challenging to decipher the truth behind them.

To start, Heineken’s reports were the longest at over a hundred pages and seemed to lack the most data. Their responses were also very unimpressive. AB InBev, employees nearly double that of Heineken and has over double the yearly revenue. AB InBev’s data was far more complete, but as a corporation as large as them, I struggle to understand how they are capable of being sustainable in an industry that is so water intensive. AB InBev makes sure to focus on their water usage intensity as it is the most impressive in the industry. Molson Coors, on the other hand is micro compared to these other two businesses but is still the fifth largest in the world.

Out of all environmental metrics, water consumption might be one of the most important to look at in the brewing industry. It takes very clean water to make good tasting beer and beer is a liquid so inherently it takes a lot of water in production. The way each of these companies uses water is more important than how much they use in many cases, but water consumption can still tell a valuable story about what is going on. The only companies to show their complete water breakdown was Molson Coors and AB Inbev. Molson Coors did not report their total water consumption for 2017, hence the lack of that data. Heineken was the only company to report their quantities of wastewater. The vagueness amount each company makes it especially hard to understand the full story behind their water use. AB InBev has the greatest water use at nearly double Heineken’s rate. AB InBev’s highest water use was in 2017 at 17.75 million kiloliters. To put that into perspective, a million kiloliters equal 264,172,052 gallons of water. The average American goes through 657,730 gallons of water a year so just a million kiloliters is about 400 times the average American use. Add 16.42 million kiloliters to that, AB InBev’s consumption in 2019, you get an absurd amount of water. But where does all the water go?

Molson Coors, even though we do not know about their 2017 data, seems to be consuming less water and as a much smaller business, they do not even have a fraction of the water use that the other companies have. I believe that this metric here, water use per hectoliter of product, is one of the most important metrics in the complete presentation, if not the most. Water Use Per Hectoliter of Production in hl/hl, is a metric that each of these brewing companies track each year. This metric is very much an efficiency metric that shows how efficiently each company is brewing their beer when it comes to water. This is a ratio that shows for every hectoliter of water the company is making that many hectoliters of product. Surprising, year after year, each company has been decreasing their amount of water use per product. This metric is an honest testament to the companies’ ability to increase their brewing efficiency over time. Even more surprisingly, AB InBev that uses the most water, had the lowest amount of water use per product. They are simply making way more beer than their competitors with less water. It this enough to justify AB InBev’s massive amount of water use? Depending on where they are getting their water from, I think so. To understand it a little more, AB InBev is brewing all over the world, so they are not pulling water from just one area. I would like to see a trend over time showing water use efficiency in brewing getting better each year.

The unfortunate truth is that this number will not continue to be more and more efficient. Beer after all is made of water and because of that there will be a point where you cannot use any less water in your brewing process. Moving forward, understanding how these companies cut back on wastewater and work to reusing water will improve their sustainability.

In conclusion, my grand question, “are small brewing companies more sustainable?”, was not answered. In matter of fact, the research I conducted was not even close to touching the surface of this topic. Without the supporting data, it is hard to say if any of these smaller companies are sustainable, let alone on the right path to lessoning their environmental impact. In contrast, this shows that although costs may prohibit certain small businesses from gathering this data, these companies such as Aqua ViTea and Boston Beer, are not taking their corporate social responsibility seriously. We should not have to ask if a company is doing what they can to improve their social and environmental outcomes. The difference is still shown in these two businesses. Aqua ViTea must be supported and prompted to get the data we need to understand their sustainability. As consumers who buy with our dollars, it’s important to advocate for transparency of smaller businesses but also support them through these challenges. Boston Beer on the other hand, is publicly traded business and the largest brewing company out of New England. They have no business making us think they are sustainable or care about corporate social responsibility until they are willing to gather this data. They are large enough where they should already be doing this.

The moral of the story here is that you cannot always take everything at face value. Many companies are trying to deceive you by greenwashing. Other companies have not prioritized corporate social responsibility. Yet, even more businesses might not have the perceived understanding of corporate social responsibility. If you are looking for a brewery to support, I would suggest by looking around you. Scope three emissions account for a majority chunk of a breweries carbon footprint. The further the drinks must travel, the greater impact those products are making by using more energy and expelling more carbon emissions. Breweries that are producing closest to you with be using less energy and causing less emissions if they do not have to be shipped elsewhere.

Instead of taking businesses word for it, support corporate social responsibility when you see it. Whether that be breweries that have growler refill programs or other reusable packaging options, solar panels at their facilities, are active supporting community non-profits, or even breweries that pitched in making hand sanitizer during the pandemic, you are able to see what each company is doing to be responsible. You are a consumer who can vote with their dollars. If you cannot see even the smallest attributes, chances are the business is not taking corporate social responsibility seriously.

Works Cited



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