Employees at Anheuser Busch’s 12 breweries in the United States and their craft partners fanned out to complete water-related service projects on World Environment Day earlier this month.
One group set out in canoes to remove trash from the Etowah River near A-B’s brewery in Cartersville, Georgia. Another crew of employees and their families cleaned out trout tanks, helping restore a fish hatchery close to the Baldwinsville, New York brewery.
“Having access to clean water is critical, not just to us but to all communities where we work and live,” says Katja Zastrow, vice president of corporate social responsibility for Anheuser Busch.
Besides these volunteer watershed efforts, A-B focuses on water-related risk management, supports community water-access programs, and invests in technologies that allow the company to return water to the watersheds from which it was withdrawn.
In 2017, A-B reported a year-over-year reduction in the amount of water used to make beer. Last year CDP named the company to its A List for water stewardship for the second year in a row.
We recently caught up with Zastrow to learn more about the company’s approach to water conservation.
How important is water for Anheuser-Busch’s operations?
In the beer business, water is the essential ingredient and our number one resource. It plays a critical role for the entire brewing process, from our agricultural input to making the beer itself.
We have a long tradition of sustainability. In the last 10 years, we reduced our water use by about 50% in our major brewery operations — that’s equivalent to 40 billion 12-oz. servings. It makes a big impact over time.
There are large and small ways to make sure we’re making progress. We have a contest every year with our employees to come up with a variety of initiatives to save water, and we share those best practices throughout the system.
What are your current goals around water?
With our goals, we want to reduce water usage by another 9% by 2025. Some of our breweries are leading the way on meeting those targets already.
This year on World Environment Day we focused on our water stewardship initiatives. In addition to the conservation efforts that we have internally, we now want to take this out to our communities to assure clean water action in the future.
How is the company encouraging employees to think about water conservation?
On World Environment Day we had a series of over 20 river cleanups around the country, most of them at the various facilities. We partnered with the River Network, which we’ve worked with since 2010, and hosted community events.
Even our president of the US and our global CEO were out in Brooklyn getting their hands dirty and picking trash out of the river with local officials and partner organizations like Living Lands & Waters and the River Network. You see that throughout the company. It’s engrained in our culture.
Are there changes to your processes that have helped conserve water?
Ninety percent of our water use actually goes into growing barley and our agricultural input. We’re making progress there. One of the initiatives is the SmartBarley program to produce new varieties of barley with higher yields. They use 40% less water than they did previously.
Then in our breweries we’re making capital investments, making sure they have the latest technology and we’re using resources efficiently. We’ve also gone to renewable energy in a lot of places. Last year A-B invested nearly $500 million in the US, and we plan to spend over $200 million on new brewery and distribution projects, $180 million on packaging initiatives, and $58 million on increasing the efficiency of our footprint.
How is A-B working to protect watersheds near brewing operations?
Through our partnerships with organizations like the River Network, we committed to having measurable impact on key watershed areas.
For our US goal, the two areas we’re focused on as being potentially the highest risk are in Los Angeles and Fort Collins, Colorado. In the Fort Collins area, one project involved doing controlled burns to help protect the local watershed.
We’ve done a lot of projects, but we’re in the process now of working with the organizations to set tangible goals and make sure we have a measureable impact over time.
A-B has a canned water initiative — how does that work?
For decades we have provided canned water for emergency relief initiatives throughout the country. When there are hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfires, we stop our beer production to can water and we make that available to areas in need. Since 1988 we’ve provided more than 76 million cans of drinking water.
Water goes from our breweries to local wholesalers through our transportation network. We make it available to the key organizations providing relief, usually the Red Cross. Later this year our brewery in Fort Collins will be coming online with additional capability to can water.
What’s next for the company around water usage?
In addition to the conservation that we have at our facilities and through our supply chain with agriculture, we’re out in the communities with our partners looking to make sure that we have quality water available into the future.
Water conservation is something everybody at the company believes in, from shutting off a valve to our CEOs being involved in water protection initiatives. Striving every day to make a difference on a seemingly small scale adds up to a global impact.