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How MillerCoors Plans to Shrink Its Water-to-Beer Ratio by 2020

MillerYou can’t brew beer without water, says MillerCoors’ director of sustainability Kim Marotta. That’s one of the reasons why the second largest brewer in the US takes its water management commitments so seriously.

Miller Coors’ 2020 goal is to reduce its average water-to-beer ratio across all major breweries to 3.0:1.0, or three units of water for every one unit of beer produced — no easy feat considering water is the no. 1 ingredient in beer, it’s used to grow barley and other ingredients and it’s used in beer-making processes.

Last year the company reduced its water usage by 128.8 million gallons across its breweries, achieving an average water-to-beer ratio of 3.29:1.0, according to Miller Coors 2016 Sustainability Report. This is a 2.1 percent reduction from 2014.

Environmental Leader caught up with Marotta to discuss the company’s water reduction achievements in 2015 and its plans for future conservation. Below are her edited comments.

Q: Your goal is to reduce MillerCoors’ average water-to-beer ratio across all major breweries to 3.0:1.0 — three units of water to make one unit of beer —by 2020. Explain why this is important.

A: You can’t brew beer — or grow its ingredients — without water. That’s why reducing our water use is one of our top sustainability commitments, and where we focus our efforts in our agricultural supply chain, brewery watersheds and within our operations.

We are continuing to reduce water use in our breweries. In 2015, we reduced our water usage by 128.8 million gallons across our breweries, achieving a water-to-beer ratio of 3.29:1.0, a 2.1 percent reduction from the previous year. We’re using much less water in our operations than the industry average. Our people are incredibly committed to finding new ways to drive down water use, and we look forward to continuing our progress.

Q: What technologies or other initiatives did MillerCoors implement in 2015 to reduce its water use 2.1 percent from 2014 levels?

A: One of our most successful water reduction practices is our employee-driven monitoring and processing systems, which include short interval controls and optimizing clean-in-place systems to reduce rinse cycles. Where possible, we capture and reuse a portion of our wastewater after brewing for processes such as equipment cooling and utilities operations that never come into contact with any of our products.

Several of our breweries continue to lead the way in reducing their water use, including:

  • Our Irwindale Brewery, which continues to reduce its water-to-beer ratio, averaging just 3.01 barrels of water for every barrel of beer brewed, a 3 percent reduction over 2014;
  • Our Fort Worth Brewery continues to reduce its water use, winning an award for outstanding water conservation efforts and achieving a 3.16:1.0 water-to-beer ratio, a 2.7 percent improvement over 2014.

Q: How much did this cost the company and how soon does it expect to see a return on investment?

A: At MillerCoors, we know we have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the environment, and we make investments in this area. We don’t disclose the amount of those investments and are committed to consistently evaluating processes and technologies to ensure we have the best in place. When we implement new water-saving processes and technologies, we begin to see results almost immediately. We look forward to continuing to drive down our water use as we work toward achieving our 2020 sustainability goals.

Q: What are the next steps MillerCoors needs to take to achieve the average water-to-beer ratio of three-to-one?

A: Two of the most important elements of our water use reduction strategy are information sharing and engaging our people. We share best practices across the company to help individual breweries identify processes that can help them continue to reduce water use locally, or how to keep employees engaged on sustainability. Our people are an invaluable asset in helping us brew beer with less water, brainstorming innovative news ways to reduce water use as well as identifying inefficiencies.

Q: Tell me about the tertiary water reuse system installed last year at the Shenandoah Brewery.

A: We installed a tertiary water reuse system at our Shenandoah Brewery in 2015 to help manage treated wastewater. The brewery uses treated wastewater on the lubrication and rinsing of equipment, as well as at our wastewater treatment plant, which is an isolated non-potable reuse water system for wash down and rinsing operations. Shenandoah’s system is currently in the 1 percent of total utilities water usage range including lubrication, rinsing, and washing operations. We’ve installed similar technologies in our Trenton, Albany and Eden Breweries previously. It’s important to note that all processes using tertiary and other waste waters never come in contact with our products.

Q: What is the business case for focusing water stewardship efforts within the brewery watersheds and beyond MillerCoors’ operations?

A: We prioritize water stewardship beyond our own operations because we are committed to helping ensure everyone, especially those in our brewery watersheds, has access to high-quality water for years to come. We focus our water conservation efforts within our brewery watersheds where water was stressed or scarce because we depend on the high-quality water in these watersheds to brew our great beers.

In addition, more than 90 percent of our water footprint takes place in our agricultural supply chain. We focus resources in this area to help conserve, improve and reduce water use and support greater watershed health for all stakeholders.

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