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We set our breweries across the world a challenging target – to reduce the water they use by 25% within seven years. They did it in six. 

Water is vital to the communities that are local to our breweries, and without water we cannot brew beer. But in the last decade a changing climate and growing human population has made water an increasingly scarce resource. 

In 2008 we decided to reduce the amount of water we use to brew beer. At that time, our breweries were using a global average of 4.6 hectolitres of water to create one hectolitre of beer (expressed as 4.6 hl/hl), with some using up to 10 hl/hl and a few leading breweries using 3.45 hl/hl. We set ourselves the stretching target to reduce the global average across all our breweries to 3.5 hl/hl by 2015. 

 
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Neil Morrison, our global engineering consultant for water, energy and emissions, describes how the decision was taken: “When we sat down and looked at what we thought would be possible over that timeframe, we realised that if it could be done at two sites, then let’s be brave and see if we can get all our sites, on average, to where our two best sites are.

“Often people think that 3.5 is a lot, but I challenge them to think about what happens when they make themselves a cup of coffee – some water boils off as steam, then you wash up and rinse the cup later – you probably find that you’ve used several cups of water to make your single cup of coffee.”

The basic brewing processes that use up water – apart from the 0.95 litre of water found in the final product – are the cleaning of the vessels used in brewing, excess steam boiled off during heating, and evaporation losses during cooling. But as well as examining our processes, we also had to overcome the way we thought about water.  

“Water itself might not be very expensive, but what you do to the water can become expensive. So if you heat that water up, take the oxygen out, or carry out any of the processes that we use in water treatment, that’s all quite expensive. So the business case for saving water starts to look more attractive when you realise that water is not free.”

Many of our breweries are in countries where water scarcity is a widely recognised issue – mainly Africa, India and Australia – but the environmental aspects inspired brewery employees in all regions.

“People working on the brewery floor really get it, especially in water-constrained areas – but even in other areas, people realise that water is a scarce resource globally, and get quite engaged and enthusiastic about water-saving projects because it’s something tangible that they can see, and there’s definitely a feel-good factor about it.”

Taking a bottom-up approach, with improvements tailored to each brewery’s circumstances, was also crucial.

I think one of the keys to our success was having site-level targets, and having the tools and processes in place that made our people believe those targets were achievable.
Neil Morrison | Global Engineering Consultant: Water, Energy & Emissions

“The other factor was knowledge management – giving our people good training and a robust list of 100 things that they could do to save water, enabled them to go and find projects and initiatives that they could put in place, giving them the confidence to sign up to challenging targets.”

The worldwide effort was so focused that we hit our 3.5 hl/hl target a year early, passing the milestone in April 2014. Our breweries in Europe are the most efficient, achieving less than 3.2 hl/hl, while those in Latin America have saved the most water by volume, and the top six breweries by improvement are all in Africa – a truly global effort.  

But this is just the beginning, on 9 July 2014 our Executive Committee set a new target – to get down to an average 3.0 hl/hl by 2020. And why not? Our Australian brewery at Yatala is already down to 2.45 hl/hl… 

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