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The philosophy behind Molson Coors 'beerprint' (Water Wednesday)

The philosophy behind Molson Coors 'beerprint' (Water Wednesday)

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The brewer seeks broader internal and external support for its sustainability initiatives by simplifying the way it describes the environmental impact of beer.

Contributor’s Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

Tenet No. 1 of brewer Molson Coors' water conservation and management strategy: You need great water to brew great beer. That makes the company's story a tough one to tell, unless it is tied directly to its product. That's why the Molson Coors sustainability team has crafted its philosophy around the concept of a "beerprint" that measures each of the brewer's brands according to its unique geographic considerations. The company manages more than 20 brands across 15 different brewing locations.

"When you put your beer down, you leave a mark on the table or the coaster," said Bart Alexander, vice president of corporate responsibility for Molson Coors. "In a similar way, that beer makes a mark on the environment. We're asking our employees, 'What kind of a print do we want to leave?' Or 'How do you grow the positive beerprint and decrease the negative beerprint?'

Alexander says the beerprint makes it easier for Molson Coors to tell its overall sustainability story, both to employees and the beer-sipping public. It isn't just about water: the beerprint label describes the company's end-to-end activities including water, energy management and waste reduction (for example, using the cast-off materials from the brewing process for ethanol or even animal feed).

Still, Molson Coors used the beerprint thinking to cut water consumption by 5 percent in its sustainability reporting period. The goal is for a 15 percent decrease in water usage by 2013 against a 2008 baseline year. That would mean the company would use about 4.4 hectoliters of water for every liter of beer brewed. The specific target for 2011 is 4.52 hectoliters of water for every liter of beer, according to some of the company's presentation materials on this topic.

Overall, there are five basic pieces to the Molson Coors "CEO Water Mandate" (I am quoting these verbatim from the presentation):

  1. Be good stewards of the drops we use.
  2. Be community minded about the ripples we leave.
  3. Understand and educate others about emerging global water issues.
  4. Engage with local stakeholders to promote sustainable fresh water for ourselves and others wherever we do business.
  5. Say what we're going and show others we're doing it.

Like other sustainability executives on top of the issues, Alexander is keenly aware that local strategies are necessary for the most effective water management. "Water you save in one place really doesn't help you elsewhere," he said. "We know that being a very efficient user of water is important. Often, there is a correlation between energy use and water use."

Let's be real: the 'beerprint' concept is a great marketing vehicle to talk about sustainable operational changes in a very simple way. Alexander admits that the term is, in part, a rebellion about some of the jargon that has arisen to describe corporate sustainability initiatives. It may take creative brainstorming for your company to come up with an umbrella philosophy that is equally relevant for your industry or business.

Past Water Wednesday posts:

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure