Beer brewers Heineken and Mahou embrace ecological initiatives due to drought

by Lorraine Williamson
beer brewers

The major beer brewers in Spain are focusing on sustainable initiatives. They must do so, as their dependence on water forces them to invest in water-saving alternatives. The ongoing Spanish drought makes it difficult for beer producers to survive.

It is well known that the agricultural sector in Spain has been suffering from water scarcity for years. The impact of drought on production is alarming. However, the beer sector also suffers from the consequences of water scarcity. That is why major beer brewers with facilities in Spain, such as Heineken and Mahou, have started ecological projects to tackle the drought. In fact, Heineken and the Junta de Andalucía renewed the agreement a few weeks ago to protect the water of Doñana. An agreement in which more than half a million euros has already been invested between 2016 and 2026.

On average, 4 litres of water are needed for every litre of beer

It is not surprising that beer brewers are concerned about water. Beer consists of 95% water. On average, four litres of water are needed to produce a litre of beer, although this depends on the brewery. On average, one litre of water is used for the beer, half a litre evaporates, and the majority is used in the production process. However, the water from the production process becomes wastewater that can be reused. According to calculations, the beer sector in Spain used more than 16 billion litres of water for the production of over 4 billion litres of beer in 2022. These figures underline the sector’s need to seek alternatives.

Drought a real threat to beer brewers in Spain

Climate change and the resulting drought are a real threat to beer brewers. Without water, there is no beer. Brewers are aware of this and are seeking new ways to regenerate water and reduce the industry’s impact. In addition to measures to responsibly manage water, Spanish breweries are working directly with the watersheds from which they source water or where they discharge excess water. New developments are underway to return water to nature and to offset consumption through water balance projects.

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Heineken leads the way in sustainability

One of the brewers showing strong commitment to sustainability is Heineken. Sagrario Sáez, sustainability director of the beer brand in Spain, says that Heineken is aware that water is essential for life and that changes are necessary. Therefore, Heineken has been working since 2008 to reduce water consumption (by 36% globally and 41% in Spain). Additionally, wastewater is treated before returning to nature.

Profit from wastewater reuse

The profit lies in wastewater. The litre of water used to make beer and the half litre that evaporates cannot be reduced. Therefore, Heineken focuses on three pillars: compensation, water circularity, and water efficiency. In practice, Heineken compensates for every litre of beer by returning water to local watersheds. In addition, the brewer aims to treat 100% of wastewater globally for reuse. Efforts are also being made to use water as efficiently as possible. Heineken has set a goal for 2025 for this last point. By that year, the brewer aims to have reduced average water consumption to 2.6 hl/hl of beer.

Heineken and Mahou as examples for other beer brewers

Heineken continues to work on treating the 1.4 litres per litre of beer used for cleaning and maintenance processes. The brewer does this to be able to return good quality water to the original source. All in all, the major Spanish beer brewers face a huge challenge. They must commit to the environment and try to minimise water usage. Hopefully, companies like Mahou and Heineken will set a good example and other beer brewers will follow suit.

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