business sustainability

What can a beer company do to meet the Sustainable Development Goals?

In 2015 the world agreed the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal set of ambitions for humanity. They aim to give everyone some common goals to work towards. Every government shares the agenda, at least in theory, and so do businesses.

Carlsberg is one company that has thought through what the SDGs mean for them. The Copenhagen based beer company looked at the list of goals and identified seven that applied to their core business. From those they then set themselves four main targets:

Zero carbon footprint – aiming for zero carbon emissions at their breweries by 2030, the company have adopted a science-based goal that is consistent with 1.5 degrees of warming. That includes a target of 100% renewable energy, expanding from the current 46%. But of course the brewery itself is only part of the journey, and reducing emissions all the way along the chain is a bigger challenge. Carlsberg are aiming for a 30% reduction in what they call ‘beer in hand’ emissions by 2030. Looking at the current emissions profile shows where savings could be made, with packaging and disposal an obvious place to start. That could be bottles returned and reused, which already happens in many places. Several packaging innovations were launched last week. Among them are packs of tins that are held together with glue instead of a plastic holder.

Zero waste water – brewing is a water-intensive process, and Carlsberg intend to halve water use by 2030, eventually getting to zero waste. This is more important in some areas than others, and there will be a particular focus on places where water is scarce. Guided by a water risk assessment conducted with WWF, 15 out of the company’s 85 production facilities have been identified as priorities. Waste water can be captured and cleaned for re-use, and research is ongoing in reducing the amount of water needed for the brewing process itself. In some places there are regulations that ban the re-use of water, so that will need lobbying to change the rules and show that it can be done safely.

Zero irresponsible drinking – this is an interesting one for a company whose profits depend on selling as much beer as possible. But the global goals include the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including alcohol (3.5). The goals also include a target to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road accidents by 2020 (3.6) Alcohol is often a factor in accidents, so companies that profit from it ought to be taking some responsibility. Carlsberg intend to contribute by ensuring that wherever their drinks are sold, one of their alcohol free alternatives is available. All packaging will carry warnings, and the company partners with others to produce responsible drinking campaigns in each of its markets.

Zero accidents – lastly, SDG number 8.8 is to ‘Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers.’ For Carlsberg that means adopting the highest standards of safety for employees, and for an international corporation that will mean standards that are well above the national minimum in some countries. This is good business, incidentally, as well as being a good employer. Accidents often mean hold-ups to production, so there’s every reason to take health and safety seriously.

Carlsberg don’t get everything right, so I’m not interested in holding them up as an ideal. (For example, they’re embroiled in an argument at the moment after attempting to patent a series of brewing techniques. See the petition against it here). But their engagement with the SDGs, the way they’ve singled out the places where they can make a difference, and setting proper goals based on the science – that’s rather refreshing. If they meet those targets, perhaps a time will come when we can say that Carlsberg is probably the most sustainable global beer brand in the world.

One comment

  1. There is a need for a bottle pool to ISO standards, so that bottles can be reused anywhere instead of being sent back to their originator.

    This applies also to containers for other products such as jams, preserves, oil, olives, etc.

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