Brainstorm Green

How to drink beer and save the environment

June 7, 2011: 12:03 PM ET

Kim Marotta, head of corporate social responsibility for MillerCoors, talks about how the company encourages responsible drinking and why it takes so much water to make beer.

By David Whitford, editor-at-large

Miller CoorsFORTUNE -- Kim Marotta runs corporate social responsibility at giant brewer MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company (TAP). She worries about carbon impact, product packaging, water use, and corporate ethics, as would any similarly titled VP at any large manufacturer. But her job has an added dimension, unique to the beverage industry, and of particular interest to any parent of teenagers during high-school-prom season: "alcohol responsibility."

That's where you tell your customers to enjoy your product, but not too much and not until they're old enough?

It's encouraging people to drink responsibly. Our primary focus is on the prevention of drunk driving, and on helping to prevent youth access to alcohol. A third area is addressing college campus issues. A fourth is self-regulation: making sure that our ads are only targeting adults. We make sure that the ads are reaching 70% legal-drinking-age adults. We actually get Nielsen numbers before we do a marketing buy or placement, and we'll go back and audit it afterwards, too.

How does that ever allow you to advertise in connection with sports?

Well, those are predominantly adults that are coming and watching those events, in the arenas and especially on TV. If you look at events that are on ESPN or CBS -- the NCAA tournament, for example -- they're well above our 70/30 standard. We're not marketing to kids.

Do you have kids?

I do. I have four kids, including a teenager who is going to be a junior in high school and another one who's going to be a freshman in high school. So it's very real to me.

What are the rules about drinking in your house?

Absolutely no beer. No alcohol. Not until you're the legal drinking age. Absolutely not. No exceptions. And my kids understand it. A lot of people that have teenagers think that other teenagers have the most influence on their kids' decisions about whether they're going to drink or engage in irresponsible behavior. But what research has shown year after year is that it's the parents that are the number-one influence. If the parents set the rules and set the standards and make it clear to the kids about what's acceptable, generally speaking, the kids will make good decisions. You've got to understand that and take responsibility for it.

On the other side, I'll just tell you one of the things a friend of mine did when his kids were younger. He had a rock in his yard, and he'd keep, like, 50 bucks under the rock at all times. So that his kids never felt as though they couldn't get home safely. They could pay for a cab and there were no questions asked.

Let's talk about sustainability. What is MillerCoors doing to reduce its water consumption?

Water is one of the most important ingredients in our beer. But it's more than just an ingredient. It's really important when we look at our agriculture supply chain, and it's used throughout our brewing process, whether it's to clean our brewing kettles, or in pasteurization, or to actually make the beer.

How much water goes into a barrel of beer?

Our 2015 goal is to use 3.5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer. Right now we're at 4.1 Most of our breweries are 30 years old. So we're making investments and putting aside money for infrastructure improvements.

If you go back to Laverne and Shirley days, remember how you'd see the beer bottles moving along the line? That was typically with a water-based solvent to help those bottles move so they didn't break or chip. We've changed the lubricant to a slippery substance that's not water-based. In our Georgia brewery, we use ionic air rinsing -- which is just air instead of water -- to clean our bottles. And just by doing that, we'll save four million gallons per line.

Lots of great advancements, but it's not an easy thing to do. Often we don't see that return on investment that we'd see with other capital investments, like energy. It's got to come from your heart.

What's the carbon footprint of a can of Miller Light?

[Laughs]. You know, I don't know the number offhand.

I just want to know if there are certain beers I can drink that have a smaller carbon footprint than others.

We look at it from packaging footprint. An aluminum can has a smaller carbon footprint than the glass bottle. Also, the bottle has a paper label on it, and paper has a lot of water content in it.

So I'm being more environmentally responsible if I drink my beer from a can than if I drink it from a bottle?

Part of the reason the carbon footprint for an aluminum can is lower is that the aluminum can has more recycled content than any other beverage container. It's approximately 68%. Generally speaking, every time you drink a can of beer and you recycle it, some part of that can will be back up in a shop within the next 60 days. The other part that's interesting is that if you make a can out of recycled content, it requires 95% less energy. So in the carbon-footprint equation, recycling is really a key component.

I suppose beer on draft is best of all?

Certainly from a carbon footprint standpoint. Most of the kegs are recycled over and over and over again. And there's generally no paper. But then if you're looking at the water footprint, you want to know how that establishment is washing glasses.

Do you offer any guidance to bartenders about responsible glass-washing?

Not yet.

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