Adnams - Understanding our water footprint

Established in 1872, Adnams is a UK brewer, hotelier and wine merchant, who hold their values at the heart of their business and are committed to making sure that their impact on society is a positive one.

Business case

  • Understanding their water footprint would inform their business planning and enable them to build their business resilience ensuring the long-term sustainability of their operations.
  • A better understanding of the processes involved throughout the lifecycle of a bottle of beer can better inform business and operational decisions and help identify cost savings.

Key findings

  • Glass bottle manufacture uses the most water – and the most water intensive process is production of soda ash, vital for the production of glass
  • Hops and barley farming are less water intensive than expected, however, eutrophication is a key issue within farming more generally.
  • Beers containing a higher malt content have greater impact on water quality due to a high use of fertilisers and pesticides in the growing of malt. However, these beers inversely have lower water consumption, as spent grain is used locally as animal feed

Adnams' company values are rooted in making great products without costing the earth: from working with local farmers and producers who supply their brewery and hotels, through to partnering with a local business to install an anaerobic digestion plant to turn brewery and food waste into biogas.

The carbon footprint of a pint

For many years they have been committed to managing the environmental impacts of their operations, setting themselves tough targets for continuous improvement in environmental performance. In 2006 they decided to conduct an in depth carbon footprint analysis of their bottled beer range.

Working with Adapt Low Carbon Group they investigated the impact of every aspect of the brewing process; from hops and barley farming, to glass production, bottling and through the consumer to where the empty bottles end up. This process was an eye-opener for the company, and they discovered that the main source of carbon emission wasn’t the beer, but the production of the bottle itself.

They used the findings from this study to inform their business and created a super-lightweight bottle for their beer; reducing the carbon emitted not just in production, but also through transportation. In the process they also reduced the recovery tax they were paying. It’s activity such as this which clearly reflects the company’s belief that “doing the right thing makes great business sense”. By 2015 they had gone on to assess the carbon footprint of all their cask, bottled and canned beer.

Adnams' holistic approach

But carbon is just one aspect of their environmental impact, and at Adnams, they believe in taking a holistic approach. Richard Carter, Finance and Sustainability at Adnams said “if by adapting our processes to reduce carbon, we increase our water consumption or our waste, or we impact on local biodiversity, then we haven’t found an effective solution. Any improvement or change in one area, could impact on another and we need to ensure we look at things in a joined up fashion."

In 2015, with support from Business in the Community and funding from DEFRA, Adnams were able to further analyse the environmental impact of their beer, this time looking at the water footprint.

The business case

For Adnams, the primary driver for carrying out a water footprint exercise was business resilience. Brewing is a very water intensive process: Adnams use three pints of water to make a pint of beer (and this is already around 30% more efficient than the industry at large). Looking further down the supply chain to include hops and barley farming and glass bottle manufacture that soars to 50 pints of water needed to create one pint of beer, or seven pints after accounting for water returned to the immediate environment. 

Aware that water is a finite resource, and local in its significance, Adnams believed that understanding their water footprint would inform their business planning and enable them to build their business resilience ensuring the long-term sustainability of their operations.

There was also an economic driver, in that a better understanding of the processes involved throughout the lifecycle of a bottle of beer can better inform business and operational decisions. This can help identify cost savings, as demonstrated by reduced manufacture, transport and end of life costs through creation of a new lightweight bottle as a result of the carbon footprint work.  

Adnams also care about their consumers; and research conducted in 2007/8 showed that their consumers care about ethical and responsible businesses. However, they weren’t concerned about specifics, for example there was little interest in a carbon neutral beer; instead consumers cared that the company they were buying from was ethical, and had a broad focus and commitment to environmental sustainability.

Gaining knowledge and insight into their product enables Adnams to engage and inspire an informed market; providing an opportunity for dialogue with consumers and another opportunity to talk about beer manufacture. It also enables them to produce the highest quality product for their discerning market.

Accessing data

Adnams decided to go beyond focussing just on blue water consumption and look also at the impact of their operation on water quality and eutrophication. A deeper insight into the impact of their processes would both better inform business decisions and give them a more holistic view of their environmental impact.

Working again with Adapt Low Carbon Group, the carbon footprinting work provided a strong base for this project. Having already established a clear understanding of the processes involved in the lifecycle of a bottle of beer across their supply chain, they were able to more quickly access data on water usage and impact on water. Good relationships with the supply chain meant that they could get primary data quickly, from the brewery and the bottlers.  However in some areas primary data was harder to access, and secondary data was needed from EcoInvent. The cost of purchasing this database was built into the project.

What they discovered

One of the key factors for the analysis was looking at water scarcity using a Water Depletion Index; this enables an understanding of not just how much water is being used, but what proportion of locally available water is being used. Southwold, where Adnams are based, is a particularly dry area of the UK, so high water consumption has a greater impact here than in other areas.

The analysis highlighted some interesting areas for Adnams, which they are now using to inform future business planning:

  • Glass bottle manufacture uses the most water – and the most water intensive process is production of soda ash, vital for the production of glass.

  • Hops and barley farming are less water intensive than expected, however, eutrophication is a key issue within farmingmore generally.

  • Some hops for Adnams beer are grown overseas, and sometimes in areas that are generally dry. Water use here is particularly relevant, but the specific hops used in each beer are vital to its flavour. Adnams can react to this knowledge now and build these considerations into product development.

  • Beers containing a higher malt content have greater impact on water quality due to a high use of fertilisers and pesticides in the growing of malt. However, these beers inversely have lower water consumption, as spent grain is used locally as animal feed, which is often better than producing it industrially from scratch.