Environment Forum

The Beer-Water Nexus

Does the path to clean, safe water lead through a brewery?

Andy Wales, head of sustainable development at global brewer SABMiller, maintains it can happen.  The maker of Miller beer — and 20 other brands, from Aguila in Colombia to Zolotaya Bochka Klassicheskoye in Russia — likes the environmental angle, but the main impetus is to ensure production of their products in what is a highly variable business from location to location.

“Water is obviously a critical part of high quality beer,” Wales said by telephone from London. One important part of this equation is figuring out how to use less water and still make good beer.

What this means in practice is working with groups like World Wildlife Fund and GIZ, a German organization that coordinates international development and sustainable development efforts. It also means recognizing the potential for water scarcity and the need for conservation. The four countries seen as having the biggest long-term water risk are South Africa, Ukraine, Tanzania and Peru, Wales said.

“The goal is to reduce our water use per liter of beer by 25 percent by 2015 over a 2008 base,” Wales said. “So that’s from 4.6 liters per liter of beer to 3.5 liters by 2015. Water efficiency’s a big part of our operations everywhere.”

What does this have to do with making good beer? In South Africa, beer-making hops grow in the George region of the Eastern Cape — an area where weather patterns are shifting due to climate change. To keep the hops growing and beer flowing, SABMiller worked with a government scientific research organization called CSIR to understand risks to that watershed, and risks to the supply of water for irrigation of hops.

from Davos Notebook:

Africa feels the heat on climate change

kilimaIt may have contributed less than any other continent to CO2 emissions, but Africa is on the front line when it comes to the impact of climate change.

Just ask Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

"It is a threat for us," he told a panel at the World Economic Forum.  "On Kilimanjaro the snow is fast disappearing, sea levels are rising -- we have one island that has already been submerged -- and we've towns around the coast where we have to incur huge costs of adaptation to erect walls."

In theory, Africa is also in a strong position, given its virgin forests that represent one of the world's great carbon sinks. But setting up workable offset-trading schemes is easier said than done.  "I can assure you, it is so difficult to access these facilities," Kikwete said.

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