Business Case for Sustainability
The process of brewing beer is essentially the same for the industry as a whole. There are two stages in the brewing process; (1) the extraction of sugars from cereal grains and (2) the fermentation of these sugars to make alcohol. However, the packaging for large breweries, consists upwards of 50% of the weight during shipping from the brewer to the distributor and then to retailers (Dornbusch, 2010). Studies have shown that the aluminum can beats out the glass bottle when it comes to life cycle analysis of the materials including the recycling and reuse of each material. Aluminum cans, when recycled, use 95% less energy and produce 95% less carbon emissions than the glass bottle, which uses a mere 2-3% less energy when recycled (EPA, 2012). Another important fact is that while consumers often complain about taste differences in aluminum cans versus bottles, studies show that aluminum is better at protecting beer from the elements, especially during transport when temperatures fluctuate the most (Presidio Economics, 2011) . I will further explore the “consumer taste” issue in the next recommendation.
Other evidence for producing more product in aluminum cans versus glass bottles is that aluminum cools quicker in a cooling environment than glass (Shevlin & Soffen, 2009), requiring less refrigeration when shipping beer in aluminum cans rather than glass bottles. Another obvious savings in both cost and environmental impacts is that aluminum weighs significantly less, about 10 times less, than it’s glass bottle counterpart. This reduces both fuel costs and carbon emissions, a win-win for large brewers. In addition the aluminum can reduces breakage and spoilage since aluminum is a more pliable material and it blocks the UV rays that glass bottles does not (colored glass is used to minimize this effect). Overall, the cost analysis of aluminum versus glass packaging shows aluminum results in lower costs and less environmental impacts (Aluminum.org, 2011) Just in recycling miles for transporting glass versus aluminum, the glass bottle can travel 9,000 miles compared to aluminum which can travel 450,000 miles before breaking even in fuel and emissions total cost, thus the cost of transporting bottles is 98% less in terms of fuel and emissions alone ( Ecotrope, 2011). Factoring in less breakage and spoilage (Bernstein, 2011), the can just makes better sense economically and environmentally. Furthermore, the barriers that make canning versus bottling in the craft brew industry are non-existent as large scale brewers already have the equipment and means necessary to move to all aluminum packaging. In fact in a strategic plan document prepared for Anheuser Busch (Carlisle, 2009), states that the aluminum bottle reduces cost due to already existing technology being more energy efficient for aluminum packaging and also in terms of public perception and awareness of “green” packaging.
Being one of the larger impacts of the beer industry, single use containers (bottles and aluminum cans) are both energy and resource intensive. The transporting of product in single use containers is much more damaging in terms of emissions and energy use than are kegs. However, it is not feasible to propose that all large scale brewers eliminate single use packaging since it would allow for competition to carve out their large profit margin by offering single use containers. We propose that, instead, large brewers adopt the aluminum bottle as an alternative to glass bottles. Aluminum bottles are lighter, seal tighter and are less of an impact on the environment when recycled. The quality of the product is increased, spoilage and breakage are decreased and cost is reduced in both production and distribution of their product. This is a win-win for the industry and has been presented as a viable business model according to the recent strategic plan