Making more beer using less water

17 Mar 14

24_02_Blog Water Week SustainabilityWater is one of our key sustainable development priorities in planning for the future. For us it’s about ‘making more beer using less water’, and so much more. As we observe National Water Week let’s take a look at some of SAB’s ongoing water initiatives.

Our water strategy is driven by our sustainable development priority to ‘make more beer, using less water'. The strategy takes on a comprehensive risk-based approach in managing water within the business and value chain and is based on the five all important ‘R's' framework:

  • Protect

  • Reduce

  • Re-use

  • Recycle

  • Redistribute.

To date, the company has made good progress on this front with water efficiency improving by 8% over the past three years to an average of 4.1 litres of water per 1 litre of beer produced. We’d like to reduce this further to 3.6 by 2015.

Water efficiency in our breweries

We’re systematically working to improving water efficiency at all of our breweries and have set ourselves the demanding target of reducing our water use per hectolitre of beer by 25% between 2008 and 2015.

Some of opportunities we’re exploring in this regard include optimising water use in boilers, steam accumulators and condensate recovery systems. The operating philosophy is based on systematic metering of water use in different parts of the brewing process, thus driving accountability in the different sections.

For example, at Alrode Brewery water from the bottle washers is pumped to dissolved air floatation purification systems to clarify it so that it can be reused safely in the washing of crates and floors. This section of the brewery measures its water use separately to other sections, which means each section can monitor and thus work on improving their section.

Water stewardship

SAB was one of the first companies to undertake a detailed water footprinting study. The study revealed that more than 90% of water used across the value chain of a beer rests in the agricultural supply chain.

To manage our water footprint we have undertaken the following:


1. The Strategic Water Partners Network

We’re working together key stakeholders in the water risk landscape within which we operate to improve water efficiency and infrastructure, including the likely future scenarios. Partners of the Strategic Water Partners Network include the Department of Water Affairs, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the South African Water Research Commission, the South African Local Government Association and several other companies such as Coca-Cola, Eskom, Nestle and Sasol.

2. Innovating through irrigation

We’re working closely with small-scale farmers in Taung to ensure optimal irrigation through the measurement of soil moisture.

Research is also being undertaken with the University of the Free State to determine a crop factor for barley and develop a computerised irrigation strategy exclusively for barley. This has the potential to enhance the sustainability of producers by cutting on costs for unnecessary water and electricity.

3. Promoting water research:  Project Eden

In partnership with Rhodes University, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management, we’ve successfully treated brewery waste-water using an environmentally sustainable approach. The quality of the treated water makes it suitable for re-use in irrigation and other secondary water uses, and it’s currently being used in the production of hydroponic lettuce and fish in a specially-designed greenhouse.

Called Project Eden, this innovative initiative utilizes High Rate Algal Ponding (HRAP) and Constructed Wetland (CW) technology to treat effluent from the brewery's Anaerobic Digestion plant. It’s currently being implemented at our iBhayi Brewery in Port Elizabeth.

Beyond the brewery

Our water sustainability strategy includes initiatives along our entire value chain, from the farmers, throughout our breweries and beyond. We’re working not just with our own staff, but building strategic partnerships across industries and even country borders, working together to find better solutions every day. In these ways we’re aiming to not only make more beer using less water, but to preserve this precious natural resource for future generations