• Barley crops are under threat from increased droughts and extreme heat, due to climate change.
  • Beer will become increasingly expensive and in short supply as a result.
  • But brewers such as Carlsberg and Heineken are taking action.
  • Solar-powered breweries, tree planting and shock tactics are all part of attempts to make the industry more sustainable.

Beer will become increasingly expensive and could be in short supply by the end of the century because of climate change, experts say.

Increased droughts and extreme heat waves are threatening crops of barley, the grain typically used in beer, and also water, which makes up to 95% of an average beer.

Brewers are responding by improving their sustainability credentials. Here are some examples.

1. Heineken’s zero-carbon breweries

Based in Amsterdam, Heineken aims to be a carbon-neutral producer of beer by 2030 and have a carbon-neutral supply chain, including agriculture, packaging, distribution and cooling, by 2040. Using renewable energy to power its breweries is key to this.

In Spain, for example, Heineken has signed a deal with energy supplier Iberdrola to power all four of its Spanish breweries and its offices with solar power. It then plans to replace existing gas boilers with ones that use biomass.

This will allow it to brew beer using only renewable energy by 2023, when Heineken Spain aims to be 100% carbon neutral. Heineken has implemented more than 130 renewable energy projects since 2018, including five of the world’s 10 largest on-site solar-powered breweries, according to Global News Wire.

2. Carlsberg invests in natural carbon capture

Danish beer giant Carlsberg has joined forces with conservation charity WWF to help restore seagrass meadows around the UK coastline. Consumers can donate to the project through buying special edition packs of beer.

Seagrass is a marine plant that can absorb carbon up to 35 times faster than a rainforest when it is massed together in underwater meadows. These natural carbon sinks are at risk from pollution and extreme weather.

The project is part of Carlsberg’s Together Towards Zero sustainability strategy, which includes targets to halve carbon emissions at its breweries by 2022.

3. AB InBev uses blockchain to boost sustainability

Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Belgium, is one of the largest buyers of barley globally for beer brands including Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s and Leffe. In a pilot project in Europe, it is using blockchain technology to track where the barley in every beer comes from.

As well as giving consumers an end-to-end view of a product’s supply chain, the project aims to improve growers’ yields, water and energy efficiency and soil health.

The brewer’s sustainability goals include measurably improving water availability and quality in all of its communities in high-stress areas by 2025.

Belgian brewer AB InBev is using blockchain technology to boost the traceability and sustainability of its beer.
Belgian brewer AB InBev is using blockchain technology to boost the traceability and sustainability of its beer.
Image: AB InBev

4. BrewDog’s tree solution

BrewDog, a craft brewer and pub chain based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, is planting millions of native trees on its own patch of forest in the Highlands of Scotland.

The company says the 50 square kilometres Lost Forest project, west of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park, is the biggest native woodland establishment and peatland restoration project ever carried out in the UK. “Overall, the Lost Forest is capable of pulling 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere,” said BrewDog chief executive and co-founder James Watt.

The company says it has been carbon negative since August 2020 and is removing double the carbon it emits.

BrewDog’s ‘Lost Forest’ covers an area bigger than 17 countries
BrewDog’s ‘Lost Forest’ covers an area bigger than 17 countries
Image: LinkedIn/BrewDog

5. A warning in a can

New Belgium Co, based in Colorado in the United States, says it is the first American company to create a nationally distributed carbon-neutral beer. The limited edition ‘Torched Earth Ale’ uses ingredients like dandelions, hop extracts and smoke-tainted water instead of the usual purified ingredients used to make beer.

The company says the beer has been intentionally designed to taste “not great”, using “the kind of ingredients that would be available in a climate-ravaged future”.

The aim is to shock bigger beer businesses into action to help tackle the industry’s carbon footprint.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.