While reading news about beer, breweries, and St. Patrick’s day, I came across an unusual article about green beer. And I don’t mean the type with food coloring. Apparently, Anheuser-Busch/InBev have announced plans to make their beer “greener” by  reducing water use.
“By the end of 2012, the company plans to whittle down its worldwide water use by 30 percent to 3.5 hectoliters of water for each hectoliter of product. Each hectoliter is about 26.4 gallons… Other targets include recycling and reusing 99 percent of the waste associated with brewing and packaging beers, up from 97.2 percent in 2007 and 98 percent in 2009, the company said. Its U.S. breweries cut the material sent to landfills by 22 percent in 2008 and recycled 99.4 percent of the beechwood chips, aluminum, glass and other materials used the next year, it said. The Bud Light and Michelob maker also wants to cut carbon dioxide emissions and energy use by 10 percent for each hectoliter of production.” [1]
Considering their production quantity, they do produce a lot of waste. In the documentary about the beer industry, Beer Wars, Jim Koch (owner of the Boston Beer Company) is quoted while describing the size of his company’s production vs. the size of AB. “They spill more beer on their floor than I can produce in a year,” says Koch, “My life’s work is their industrial waste.”
For any company, reducing waste and making production more eifficient are worthwhile goals to pursue. If you can cut costs and save resources while still producing the same quality of product, then it makes business sense to do so. My objection, perhaps, is the motive, and the opportunity for marketing.
In an article in the New York Times, analysts have pointed out that this move may be part of a larger looming problem for brewers than their “green” reputation.
“What this reflects is a growing trend of beverage companies realizing that the explicit and implicit price of water is likely to go up,” said Brooke Barton, a senior water program manager at Ceres. “There will also be more regulation and more competition in the watersheds where they operate,” she added. [2]
But the missing link is between consumers and the company. I can envision AB using their new “green” initiatives to lure customers with images of wheat fields, children and clear blue lakes of clean, fresh water. I can even envision their “drinkability” slogan being morphed into “sustainability.”
But the real question is – is it really “greener” to buy an AB product that watches its waste, or buy from a smaller craft brewer that doesn’t use or waste that many resources? I, for one, am convinced that the craft beer market encourages healthy competition, and brings breweries clsoer to being more sustainable naturally, just through competition pressure. Small companies also often have investments in their communities, and many breweries strike up local partnerships; for example Allagash Brewing in Maine has partnered with some Maine farmers to provide them with their spent grain, etc.
The bottom line? I’m happy that they’re reducing some of their waste, but I just hope consumers don’t start getting “greenwashed” by AB and MillerCoors when there are other companies doing more.
References:

[1]Boston Herald –Anheuser Busch InBev to make ‘green’ beer by cutting down on water use
[2]New York Times – World’s Biggest Brewer Cuts Water Use, Braces for Future Risks