Challenges ahead for brewers' 'green' beer drive

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Brewers Greenhouse gas Carbon dioxide

'Green' beer may not appear to be much of a priority for brewers,
but the industry is nonetheless having to wake up to the need for
sustainable production, a leading environmental group has said.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told that brewers were increasingly following the examples set by other beverage manufacturers in cutting down on the environmental impacts of their production cycles.

Dax Lovegrove, WWF's head of business and industry relations, claimed that while there has been more pressure on manufacturers of highly recognisable soft drink brands to ensure sustainable practices, most brewers now realise the importance of environmentally friendly manufacture.

"Climate change alone exacerbates a number of problems currently facing beer making," he said.

"Water use in particular is a major threat, especially for brewers in dry regions, who are more reliant on a sustainable supply of the resource."

Lovegrove stressed that while more needed to be done by the industry to cut energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) output wherever possible, brewers were showing some initiative in meeting environmental concerns.

He highlighted SABMiller's 10-step plan, which pledges a variety of measures designed to address numerous environmental and social problems, as a good example of this.

The scheme aims to cut carbon emissions and water use at the company's production sites, while additionally focusing on more social and health issues like aids.

Environmental challenges However, beyond the current focus on manufacturing processes, Lovegrove claimed that there were a number of additional areas for brewers to focus on, particularly in locating future bottling plants.

"Better policies are needed especially in avoiding starting up business in dry areas where water supply is limited," he stated.

"Breweries need to be a lot more sensitive on how they are using local resources, with close attention to the surrounding wildlife."

Sourcing of ingredients like brewer's grains, which are traditionally thirsty crops, was another key issue that beer makers had yet to fully evaluate, according to the WWF.

"Ingredients are one area that really needs to be addressed particularly with a view to irrigation techniques, if the industry is to meet the challenges."

Carbon friendly beer

The comments come as Australia-based Foster's launches what its claims is a sustainably produced and packaged premium beer brand for its domestic market, known as Cascade Green.

The beer, which is made by the group's Tasmania-based subsidiary Cascade Brewery, has obtained certification from the Australian Government's Department of Climate Change as being a greenhouse friendly product.

Cascade said that it achieved the certification following extensive independently verified Lifecycle Analysis of the production line for the beer.

The brewer claims it was able to meet requirements by purchasing carbon offsets for its operations from other enterprises to ensure it is inline with requirements, along with additional environmental packaging initiatives.

Cascade spokesperson Troy Hey said that the launch of Cascade Green, and its carbon friendly certification was not simply a recent marketing reaction to environmental concerns, but part of a long-term plan to meet consumer demands for greener products.

"There is clearly a growing consumer group looking for 'greener' product alternatives," he stated.

"Cascade Brewery has spent over a decade implementing a detailed sustainability plan that, over the last six years, has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 16 per cent and water usage by 30 per cent per unit of production."

Hey said that despite this increased green focus, there were currently no plans to expand the brand into the wider global beer market.

"Our initial focus is to build Cacsade Green as a great Australian premium beer brand, so no, there are no plans to take Cascade Green offshore at the moment", he stated.

Emissions offsetting However, rather than simply advertise the brand's carbon offset credentials, Lovegrove said that Foster's, like the entire brewery industry, should be playing up efforts made at reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and water use instead.

"Offsetting carbon emissions should only be considered as a last resort by industry," he stated.

European commitment It is not just Australian brewers that are keen to focus on environmental sustainability in production; their European counterparts also claim that they are on the way to sustainable beer production.

Rodolphe de Looz-Corswarem, secretary general for trade association the Brewers of Europe, told that although there were always improvements that could be made, the industry had been taking the threat of climate change and other green issues seriously for some time.

According to Brewers of Europe figures, in the twenty-year period between 1976 and 1996, CO2 emissions from brewers operating in the European continent fell by 42 per cent, de Looz-Corswarem said.

On top of CO2 emissions, water use was another area where brewers were looking for improvement, according to the group.

"Today 6.5 litres of water is used in order to manufacture one litre of beer," said de Looz-Corswarem.

"10 years ago the same process required 10 litres."

He added that the need for environmental sustainability should not be seen as a marketing gimmick by the industry however.

"We have to be more effective in addressing green issues or the competition - wines and spirits producers - will kill us," said de Looz-Corswarem.

"European brewers are extremely big in the industry, we must therefore make progress."

Clean industry Despite these concerns, de Looz-Corswarem claimed that by tradition the brewing industry was generally a clean one, consisting of 90 per cent water and ingredients generally sourced from the ground.

He highlighted schemes adopted by some manufacturers of supplying grain waste left over from the brewing process back to local cattle as feed as the perfect example of returning benefits back to the source.

Related topics Markets Beer & cider Sustainability

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