Heineken presents ‘first large scale zero carbon brewery in the world’ – but does this matter to the average beer drinker?

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Andreas Werner, brew master, at Heineken's Göss brewery
Andreas Werner, brew master, at Heineken's Göss brewery

Related tags Renewable energy Sustainability

Heineken’s Göss Brewery in Austria is ‘the first large scale zero carbon brewery in the world’: but is this a claim that consumers will actually relate to, and can Heineken’s sustainability efforts influence the choices beer drinkers make?

The Netherlands-based firm says it has put sustainability at the heart of its business, having created the well-publicised “Brewing a Better World” strategy.

There are commitments to cut carbon, increase renewables, source sustainably and promote responsible consumption.

These all make business sense: energy prices are rising steeply, natural resources are dwindling and environmental legislation is expected to increase. But does any of it matter to the average beer drinker?

The firm’s director of sustainability, Michael Dickstein, certainly thinks so. “If we thought it was too early to approach customers with these messages then we wouldn’t have linked our brands with [the green agenda],” ​he explained.

Dickstein was speaking to BeverageDaily at the Göss Brewery in Austria, which is set to become the company’s green pin-up as “the first large-scale zero carbon brewery in the world”. There’s clearly an ambition to use Göss to push low-carbon innovation right across the globe – and steal a march on the competition.

Göss is a small town in Austria where Gösser beer has been brewed for the last 156 years. The 1.4m bottles produced here every day won’t be marketed as carbon-neutral – yet.

That kind of message currently sways between 5% and 10% of consumers into buying, according to Heineken’s research. It will take time and it won’t work for every market.

“There’s a small group of customers [interested in this] at the moment [but] it’s a very relevant topic”,​ Dickstein said.

Göss Brewery

  • Founded in 1860
  • Produces 1.4m bottles of "carbon neutral" beer daily using a variety of renewable technology and energy efficiency techniques
  • The overhaul of the site's energy systems began in 2003, led by Brew Master Andreas Werner
  • 100% of electricity is from hydropower sources
  • Goss & solar panels
    Heat comes from a number of sources: 35% from neighbouring sawmill; 50% from biogas generated from spent grain; 10% from biogas created from waste water; and 3% to 5% from solar
  • Energy efficiency measures include reuse of 90% of waste heat
  • The site is billed to cut its carbon emissions from 3,000 tonnes a year to zero.

Renewable energy

Energy, rather than carbon, is the area the marketing team have currently honed in on. It makes sense: renewable energy is something customers can relate to and it’s also an area where the food and drink sector has been found wanting.

Many European companies are still hooked on fossil fuels. According to a report​ published last year by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the share of renewables in the food and beverage system “remains relatively small”, while “Renewables accounted for just 7% of the energy used in the sector in 2013, compared to 15% in the overall energy mix,” JRC concluded.

Heineken is tapping into this opportunity with a portfolio of brands it sells under the strapline “Brewed by the Sun”, which are produced using solar energy and come with a logo on the label to prove it.

Heineken claims it is currently the leading brewer in the use of solar energy, with solar installations on breweries in the Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Italy and Singapore.

Brewed by the Sun family

In Italy, brewer Birra Moretti (acquired by Heineken in 1996) falls under this umbrella, thanks to 8,000 solar panels (the equivalent of four football fields) helping to slash the carbon footprints at the breweries by 1,000 tonnes. Wieckse beer in the Netherlands, meanwhile, has had the message embedded into its messaging and packaging since 2013.

Tiger is the latest brand to join, with influential YouTuber Ben Brown having recently been invited to Singapore (where it has its largest rooftop solar installation) in a bid to engage the hard to reach millennial audience. The move makes sense considering research often shows​ millennials to be most willing to pay extra for sustainable products.

That doesn’t make low carbon or solar-powered beer a guaranteed success, however. Dickstein is wary of research that shows 75% of consumers make sustainable purchasing decisions. “They leave the interview and by the time they’ve got to the supermarket they’ve forgotten,”​ he said. Recent research​, albeit on ethical food, is proof of his point.

Beer brewed using renewable energy is a simple message, and that helps communicate the company’s ambitions internally as well as externally. As Dickstein puts it: “The fact we are linking our brewing to renewable energy in our brand communications is new for the outside world and new for the inside world.”

Financial sense

Michael Dickstein cropped
Michael Dickstein

Like any business, investment in sustainability has to make financial sense. If that wasn’t the case then “we wouldn’t be good businessmen,”​ explained the firm’s global manager for utilities Kalpesh Tejani.

Dickstein and Tejani have certainly got the buy-in of the board, which has put the company on track to cut carbon emissions in production by 40% by 2020.

Interest from investors has also doubled, Dickstein said. Its sustainability strategy will also provide shelter from looming risks, including energy cost and availability, water scarcity and new regulations.

It’s too early to say whether or when “green beer” will really start to work as a marketing tool, but Heineken is clearly playing the long game.

“I believe we have made the right decision to approach consumers in this way,” ​Dickstein concluded. “Environmental sustainability is high on the global agenda, but it’s also what our consumers expect from us.”

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