Major beer brewer SABMiller and global conservation organisation the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are working together on water footprinting to better understand the quantity, efficiency and geographical context of water used to produce beer, in order to better manage the resource.
The organisations are both partners of the Water Footprint Network and the water use study formed part of a report on ‘Water Footprinting: identifying and addressing water risk in the value chain’. The report, undertaken in cooperation with consultancy company URS Corporation, aimed to identify the water footprints of the beer value chain in South Africa and the Czech Republic.
Definition of Water Footprint
The report defines a water footprint as an indicator of water use that looks at both the direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an indi- vidual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed or polluted for each unit of time.
A water footprint encompasses the entire value chain, from crop cultivation and pro- cessing to brewing and distributing the beer, and details both the direct and indirect total water input. The report reveals that the total water footprint in South Africa is equivalent to 155 ∙ of water for every litre of beer, such as Castle Lager and Carling Black Label. About 98,3% of this comes from the cultivation of both local and imported crops.
In terms of the actual quantitative footprint, the report states that the South African footprint at 155 ∙ of water for every litre of beer was significantly higher than the Czech Republic footprint of 45 ∙ of water for every litre of beer. The volume differences were attributed to differing country temperature profiles, greater reliance on irrigated crops in South Africa and the larger proportion of imported agricultural raw materials flowing into SABMiller’s South African business from countries where crop water consumption is higher.
It is reported that, in comparison with other beverages, beer’s water footprint is relatively small. However, the water footprint figure itself does not give the whole picture. More important is where the water is used, what proportion of the area’s total water resource it represents, and whether water scarcity creates risks to the environment, communities and businesses now or in the future.
WWF freshwater footprint manager Stuart Orr says that the water footprints of SABMiller’s beers in South Africa and the Czech Republic are the first detailed corporate water footprints to be published and are progressive in the way they examine the impact of water use within these countries. Most important is that this information is now used to ensure that their business partners, particu- larly farmers, are encouraged to use water more efficiently.
Function of a Water Footprint
SABMiller head of sustainable development Andy Wales explains that water footprinting enables SABMiller to understand which parts of the company’s supply chain might face water scarcity or poor water quality in the future. This means that SABMiller can now plan to deal with these future challenges.
“If water footprinting is applied well, it can be very useful from a business perspective, helping to identify the scale of water use in water-scarce areas and the potential business risks that arise. The key test of a water footprint is whether it helps a business to make better operational decisions concerning how it manages its plants, how it works with suppliers and how it engages with govern- ments to reduce business risk and improve environmental sustainability,” says Wales.
He adds that the business future around water hinges on the ability to understand, measure and engage in the management of water resources.
“The complex challenges surrounding water in the twenty-first century will only grow in the coming years and companies must be prepared to engage outside their own fence line and traditional comfort zone to ensure the long-term viability of this critical resource,” he asserts.
Plan of Action
SABMiller already works with barley farmers to improve their yields and water use and, together with WWF, the company is now considering the further development of this project to protect the watersheds within which it operates. The two organisations are using the insight provided by water footprinting to develop targeted programmes to improve water management.
The programme allows SABMiller to voluntarily monitor and reduce its opera- tional water consumption and then offset the residual water by investing in projects that clear alien vegetation. This, in turn, releases equivalent volumes of water back into natural aquatic ecosystems.
“We will build on our existing partner- ships with WWF in South Africa, Colombia and Honduras to create further local water- shed protection projects to reduce risk, while protecting the environment,” says Wales.
In South Africa, SABMiller is already working with WWF and the South African gov- ernment’s Working for Water programme to pilot the water neutral concept in two water-scarce regions, where it has breweries. The initiative, launched in 2008, is believed to be the world’s first fully quantitative water neutral scheme. The scheme encourages water users to review their water usage, implement a reduction strategy, and invest in projects that will quantitatively replenish water to hydrological systems equivalent to their water usage.
SABMiller is one of the world’s largest brewers with brewing interests and distribution agreements across six continents. The group’s wide portfolio of brands includes premium international beers, such as Grolsch, Miller Genuine Draft, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Pilsner Urquell, as well as market-leading local brands, such as Aguila, Castle, Miller Lite, Snow and Tyskie. SABMiller is also one of the largest bottlers of Coca-Cola products in the world.
In the year ended March 31, 2009, the group reported $3,405-million in adjusted pretax profit and a group revenue of $25,302-million. SABMiller is listed on the LSE and the JSE.