Making more Beer using less Water

03 Sep 13

Clean, fresh water straight from the tap. How many of us take it for granted? Every day, we wash in it, cook in it, swim in it, and, of course, drink it. The challenge is that South Africa, like other parts of the world, is running out of fresh water – and that means we have to get smart about making the most of what we have.

How many of us realize that we crack open a beer, we’re enjoying a product that needs a lot of water to get from the brewery to our hands? “Making more beer using less water” is a mandate we’ve embraced for several years now. SAB uses a technique called Water Footprinting to assess how much water is used in the value chain. Our experts look at everything from the barley and hops that go into the beer, to distribution, consumption and recycling. The aim is to understand exactly how much water we are using, what the risks are, and how that affects us – and you.

To put the problem in perspective:

  • South Africa is one of the most water poor nations in the world, with less than 500 cubic meters of water per person per year – putting us on a par with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and India.
  • Producing beer takes a lot of water. From crop farming, to processing, to brewing, distribution and consumption, producing 1 litre of beer uses about 155 litres of water.
  • By 2030, there could be a potential shortfall of 40%, in water resources available across the world.
  • It is estimated that over 70% of global freshwater is used for growing food. Global population growth is set to rise from 6.7 billion today to over 9 billion in 2050, putting even more strain on freshwater supplies.

Clearly, water shortages are a looming problem. So what are we at SAB doing about it? Water is one of our sustainable development priorities, and we are tackling the problem from a number of different angles.


Here’s how we are tackling our water sustainability challenges:

  • Globally, SABMiller has set a target to reduce water use per litre of beer by 25% between 2008 and 2015.
  • SABMiller is a founding signatory of the UN CEO Water mandate, an initiative to help companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices.
  • We are also a member of the World Economic Forum Water Project, the Water Footprinting Network, and the Water Futures Partnership
  • Our water strategy is based on the 5 R's (protect, reduce, reuse, recycle and redistribute), a comprehensive, risk-based approach to managing water in its business and in the value chain.

Much as we all love beer, the truth is that there are no alternatives to water. So it’s up to all of us to ensure that when we turn out the tap, it provides us with that precious, life-giving liquid – long into the future.