Water scarcity and quality is an increasingly urgent and politically sensitive issue. It is of immediate relevance to the brewing sector as it is a sector that is particularly exposed to water stress with water forming a fundamental component of its product – both as ingredient and in the brewing process - and a significant aspect of its value chain through the production of grain. It is therefore of particular importance for the brewers to understand the water challenges, stresses and risks they face to make better management decisions as water stress can cause widespread disruption to an organization’s operations and profitability.

This sector has already taken a number of actions to manage water within its operations, and, from a water use per unit production perspective, a significant amount of progress has been made to brew more beer with less water1. This has been driven by a desire to improve internal efficiencies and hence costs as well as responding to a broader concern around the sustainability of water usage.

Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement particularly in the identification and characterization of the broader linkages that support responsible water use, such as water basin management, social and community interactions and security of supply. There are a number of tools available to help sectors such as this to improve their water management, and The Brewers of Europe - the trade association of European brewers - wanted an online operational water source tool library that would inform them about the diversity in approaches to sustainable water management and provide clarity on the current most applicable and relevant water stress identification and assessment tools and methodologies for the beer sector.

Our approach

To enable organizations to respond more effectively to the diversity of water stresses and water risks affecting modern business, over the past few years a broad range of guidance documents, tools, standards and schemes focused on more sustainable and integrated water management practices have been developed by various organizations ranging from NGOs such as CERES and WWF to business associations such as World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). All have their own focus and approach – some focus on risk, others on water management, some are global, others are regional – and therefore it is not always easy for organizations and in water sensitive sectors such as brewing to understand which tool best fits their specific needs. Our approach was to look at each tool from a practical perspective, ie what can a company do with the tool? What is the outcome? And how much time and data does a company need to use a tool?

The library contains an analysis and in-depth description of nineteen state of the art tools and methodologies to assess water vulnerability and associated risk. The description focuses on the use of the tools i.e. the end purpose – this can be risk assessment at local or global level, communication and reporting of water issues, guidance to develop integrated water management strategies etc. Furthermore the library describes data requirements, the form of output (graphics, index, etc). The tool library also has a decision-making tree that guides the user to find the tools that best fit their purpose. Of course the library will need to be updated as tools are being further developed or new tools are released.

Benefits and Value

In developing the online tool, we were able to address the diversity in approaches to sustainable water management by providing further clarity to The Brewers of Europe on the most applicable and relevant water stress identification and assessment tools and methodologies for the brewing sector.  Brewers are now able to the find their way in the forest of water tools and methodologies that currently exist. Through this clarification and better understanding of the tools, the threshold for brewers to actually do something about their water management is lower.

The tool also provided an opportunity to ensure that the brewers understand that water vulnerability requires a holistic approach that considers not only on-site water consumption and wastewater treatment but also issues around water availability, ecosystem management or supply risk.   Most brewers are aware of water risks - now they are also able to work with water tools and methodologies that meet their needs. For some brewers this may be developing a water strategy and associated corporate commitment, for others this may be to find out where they have operations that face water risk because they’re located in water scarce areas, whilst others may be looking into assessment of site risks and again others may be looking to disclose water use to investors or the wider public.