Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I sustainability talk

16 November 2020

Matthew Rogerson recently had the chance to discuss the latest impressive sustainability acheivements and goals of Budweiser with Jacqueline Hochreiter, Sustainability Lead, Europe, Budweiser Brewing Group. Questions and answers follow

1) What does sustainability mean to Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I and how that might differ from what consumers understand?

At Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I, we take pride in challenging ourselves to take robust, tangible action to reduce our environmental impact, preserve our natural resources and have a positive impact on our communities. That’s why we’ve determined an ambitious set of sustainability goals to be reached by 2025.

Plastic waste, in particular, is at the forefront of consumers’ minds at the moment and is something we’ve taken significant action on as part of these goals. However, we also understand the importance of taking a broader look across the entire supply chain – from seed to sip – to ensure that we’re brewing our beer sustainably.

This holistic approach is key for us when it comes to sustainability. Over the last year, we’ve worked closely with our suppliers and partners on several key areas where we believe we can have the most impact: renewable electricity and carbon reduction, water stewardship, smart agriculture, and circular packaging.

We’re already seeing the positive impact of various initiatives under these programmes, while establishing strong foundations to continue driving our sustainable operations in the long-term.

2) Discuss in depth the journey (eliminating plastic rings) and thoughts for the future

One of our core sustainability goals is that 100% of our products will be in packaging that’s returnable or made from majority recycled content by 2025.

Reducing plastic waste remains high on the agenda for consumers, with our own research telling us that 82% feel it’s important to reduce the UK’s plastic consumption and 27% saying they feel guilty when buying single-use plastic products.1 As the world’s largest brewer, we want to help consumers address these concerns by providing an easy way for shoppers to buy more sustainably.

We announced our commitment to remove plastic rings across our entire UK-produced canned beer portfolio in September 2019 and just 13 months later, we achieved our ambition.

Two key elements have helped us here – investing in the infrastructure at our two UK breweries, and the strategic partnerships we’ve developed within our supply chain.

We’ve invested £6.3 million into the packaging infrastructure at our Magor and Samlesbury breweries, which together produce more than 4,000 cans per minute. After upgrading our canning lines across these sites, they’re now fully equipped to produce alternatives to plastic rings, including fully recyclable wraps.

As a result, 250 tonnes of plastic will now be eliminated every year across our full canned beer range. When combining our removal of plastic-rings and decreased usage of plastic shrink wrap, 850 tonnes of plastic waste will be removed from our supply chains.

To set ourselves apart from similar initiatives and go one step further, we joined forces with a strategic, like-minded supplier to identify innovative solutions that allow us to develop a more long-term sustainable approach. We worked with Graphic Packaging International, one of the largest manufacturers of paperboard and paper-based packaging, who developed KeelClip™. This is a new patent-pending technology that uses recyclable paperboard to create a sustainable, lighter weight pack.

The significant changes to our processes and introduction of new technology means that we can not only improve the sustainability of our operations now, but we can preserve the natural resources needed to brew beer for years to come.

3) How do you continue to deliver your sustainability goals while providing consumers and the market what they want?

Making some of the UK’s best-selling beers means we produce more than 5 million cans per day. We therefore ensured that our latest packaging technologies were both sustainable and efficient in order to keep up with demand.

As we deliver our sustainability goals we also need to ensure we’re delivering high quality products for consumers. We’ve recently announced that 100% of the barley used in our UK breweries is sourced from British farms – a programme that helps us to do just that, sourcing high quality, local ingredients for our beer. At the same time, this move supports British agriculture and cuts down on carbon emissions as we no longer need to import this Barley for our UK produced beers.

We understand that consumers also want to see businesses operating sustainably across their entire supply chain. We’re working with logistics partners at our Magor brewery in South Wales to make efficiencies across our delivery supply chain – employing a truck sharing scheme to remove empty trucks on the route between Magor and Northampton and streamline the number of journeys being made. The initiative will remove 300 trucks from UK roads every year, saving over 46 tonnes of CO2. This is another example of how we’ve worked closely with our partners to identify specific areas for improvement and efficiencies across our supply chain – and then ensuring we have a robust plan in place to deliver on our sustainability goals, while continuing to meet demand for our products.

As each of these examples shows, working with expert and trusted partners across our supply chain to review our processes and implement practical, workable solutions has been key in delivering our sustainability goals.

4) Is there a disconnect in what consumers think of as ‘sustainable’ and what companies can deliver, produce or pack?

When it comes to packaging specifically, there are various nuances and complexities to consider. Getting the balance right between ensuring the security and protection of products and providing more sustainable options can be challenging – but essential.

We therefore strive to continue serving and educating consumers, while making positive environmental progress. That’s why we work closely with various partners and suppliers, who are continuing to innovate around plastic alternatives, material use and recyclability and use their expertise to unlock more sustainable solutions that can still cater to the functional needs of packaging. Consumers can also play their part by supporting the circular economy and reducing their own carbon footprint.

We think it’s important for consumers, individuals and businesses alike to take a more holistic approach when it comes to defining sustainability. So rather than focusing solely on one element, such as packaging, thinking about implementing more sustainable and efficient manufacturing / distribution processes across the board. In order to effectively deliver this, sharing insights, expertise and best practice across the industry will be key.

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