Water—there is no other natural resource as precious and powerful. Yet studies show that our growing population, intensive irrigated agriculture and climate change are increasing the vulnerability of this resource. World Water Day this past Tuesday gave us a chance to reflect on the role that corporations play in shaping the future of water.
Restoring water is critical to creating a more sustainable world. According to the United Nation’s World Water Development Report, global water resources may soon meet only 60 percent of the world’s water demands.
It is imperative that a corporation understands its water footprint and works with others to preserve and restore water as a resource.
For beer companies, water flows through every step of the brewing process, from the barley field to the bottling line. While water usage varies widely among breweries and is dependent upon specific processes and locations, the U.S. average is about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced.
As the director of sustainability for the second largest beer company in the U.S., I have made it a priority to understand this resource not just for my own company, but for the communities in which we live and work.
This past year alone, I witnessed 344.5 millions of gallons of water saved through creating partnerships, improving supply chain efficiencies, and updating processes and equipment. That’s enough to meet the needs of more than 2,000 American households annually!
It’s important to understand your own water usage, but just as important to form partnerships for collective action. Take the California Water Action Collaborative (CWAC) for example. CWAC is a partnership between MillerCoors and a number of other food, beverage and environmental organizations all committed to preserving California watersheds. Together, we are finding and creating solutions that benefit watersheds throughout the region.
As water moves from watershed through the brewing process, it touches so much more than just our facilities. More than 80 to 90 percent of a company’s footprint, and most of its water risks, may be beyond its direct operations.
By tightening the process to focus on increasing water efficiency throughout the agricultural supply chains, and by working with growers to incorporate irrigation solutions, we can save hundreds of gallons of water.
When we get to production, we believe that real success comes from our employees’ advocacy of change. We encourage our employees to engage in Short Interval Controls, the process of identifying opportunities to improve production in real time. Employees reducing water use across the industry is only possible because of the hard work and dedication of our employees—across all levels. As a result, I’ve seen water-to-beer ratios continue to decline.
Observances like World Water Day remind us that our work is far from finished. Despite our individual and collective progress, sustainability is as much a journey as it is a goal. I challenge companies to continue to find new and innovative ways to preserve our precious resources. That means setting and committing to ambitious water restoration goals. Water is a resource too important not to prioritize and protect. Together I believe we can ensure its future.
1 WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). 2015. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015: Water for a Sustainable World. Paris, UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002318/231823E.pdf
2 Brewers Association. Water/Wastewater Laboratory Calculations. Mathematics Manual for Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators 2004. https://www.brewersassociation.org/attachments/0001/1517/Sustainability_-_Water_Wastewater.pdf
3 Place J., Dutto, P.R. and Casula, V. 2012. Putting water in the mainstream of your business strategy. Prism 1: 69-81. London, Arthur D. Little.