How Anheuser-Busch InBev Is Using Less Water

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) recently made a big announcement about its use of water: it is the most efficient user of water among all global brewers. The brewer achieved a water use ratio of 3.2  hectoliters per hectoliter of production, a measure described by AB InBev as “industry-leading.” That ratio is the lowest among the largest global brewers, resulting in the savings equivalent of the amount of water it takes to make over four billion cans of beers. It represented a 4.5 percent water reduction over the previous year.

AB InBev achieved its water use ratio by calculating its efficiency “using the standard industry calculation method: total water use divided by total hectoliters of production,” Bert Share, Senior Global Director, Beer & Better World at AB InBev told me. 

It takes water to make beer, so it's only fitting that AB InBev has a water stewardship program. The program is particularly relevant in water-stressed areas such as Brazil and California which are both facing severe droughts. Collaboration is key to water stewardship, Share believes. “The challenge with water-stressed areas around the globe is that local water issues are very complex,” he said. “While we can do our part within our own walls, we realize we must work collaboratively with partners to explore long-term solutions.”

One example of collaboration is AB InBev’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the largest conservation organization in the world. AB InBev partners with TNC to support a local watershed project in Fort Collins, Colorado and has committed $110,000 to restore forests and reduce wildfire risks in the Cache la Poudre River watershed, Share explained. The project “plays a critical role in capturing and filtering water that sustains 250,000 people in the Fort Collins area,” he said.

After exceeding all of its 2012 environmental targets, AB InBev did what any smart company would do: it set new targets with 2017 as its target year. Three of the 2017 goals are related to water. The company is on track to meet the goals, including the water related ones, Share said. Its water savings have resulted in an over $12 million reduction in water costs since 2012.

Managing water risk is vital for any company, but it is particularly vital for a brewing company. Water is the main ingredient in its beer and “key to our agricultural supply chain,” as Share pointed out. However, it is also necessary for the “ economic, social and environmental well-being of communities where we live and work,” he added. 

Managing water risk means focusing on growers because 90 percent of AB InBev’s total water use goes into growing barley and other agricultural inputs, according to Share. In the U.S. the brewing company is working with its farmers in Idaho to grow more barley with less water. The water savings will come from an irrigation scheduler program called AgriMet that links local climate station data to a web and mobile application which allows growers to optimize their irrigation water use. The pilot program is producing results with a nine to 23 percent reduction in water use by participants. AB InBev is expanding the pilot to three AgriMet stations in Montana.

Photo: Frank