Adnams' sustainable water use

For Adnams Brewery in Southwold, Suffolk, water is a real concern, and from maintaining supply and quality to limiting any negative impacts their production has on the environment the brewers have become an example of sustainable water use.

"Water is a very local issue: different regions have very different concerns. For us in Southwold (one of the driest parts of the country) the risks affecting us are water scarcity and quality. We’re particularly mindful of our reliance on water because we use over 75 million litres per year.

It’s an essential ingredient for beer and spirits, and climate change is threatening its ready availability in this region. Rainfall patterns are changing and saline intrusion is making local boreholes unusable.

Improvements through reducing waste

We understand where and how we use water in our business, and we strive to reduce or re-use as much of it as possible. Most of those efficiencies come from improving our cleaning processes or reducing waste; clearly there is very little we can do to reduce the amount of water that ultimately ends up in our beer or our spirits.

And we’re very fortunate that we can re-use water between the brewery and distillery, particularly when it is being used for heating or cooling. This means that we have one of the lowest production ratios in the UK. In our brewery, it’s just 3.1 pints of water for every pint of beer produced, around 20% lower than the industry average.

Our distillery is equally efficient. The range of products we produce makes comparison difficult but, on whisky, we think we’re 23% below industry average. We’re delighted to see that the industry ratios have been falling year on year, which is partly from our practices becoming more common. We are still making improvements wherever we can.

Adnams as a steward for water

The next stage of our work on water is a full lifecycle analysis, much the same as we did with carbon recently and which led to considerable reductions in our emissions (around 1,000 tonnes of CO2e every year). Water is slightly different: it’s about stewardship as much as usage.

We anticipate that we’ll see some best practice in the agricultural stages of the lifecycle, but also that there might be the greatest opportunities for reduction or management here too (a small improvement could have a large effect).

Being able to capitalise on these will help our suppliers while exercising our responsibility to the region. In turn, this will improve the resilience of our business as weather patterns continue to change.

The carbon footprint of a beer can

The link between water and carbon isn’t just illustrative by the way: we’ve learnt to take a holistic view of environmental matters. For example, the carbon footprint of a canned beer is roughly half that of a bottle. But other issues such as the scarcity of bauxite, acid rain, eutrophication, and so on, emerge.

For this reason we’ve been working with our can supplier to achieve perhaps the highest amount of recycled content anywhere in the world, thus easing the effects on distant water courses. Those who know Southwold might have noticed just how close our brewery is to The North Sea, a considerable expanse of potentially available water.

With current technology, the energy required to desalinate to a satisfactory standard is quite considerable, and even though we seek to get as much energy as possible from renewable sources (over 90% at the last count), the impact on carbon emissions would be undesirable.
It’s a cliché perhaps, but good business means good business. We don’t pretend to know everything, but we think we have a strategy that helps us to make decisions that are responsible and sustainable, both environmentally and economically."