How does beer help protect the climate?

We talk to Karolina Tarnawska, Procurement Director of Grupa Żywiec SA about the role of sustainability in the operations of breweries and why it is important to achieve climate neutrality by 2040.

What is sustainability for Grupa Żywiec in practice?
Good beer means the best natural ingredients and clean water. The pandemic has shown how much of a challenge in the long run the climate crisis is, together with the irreversibility of the changes it brings. To continue functioning in our world, we must learn to develop while respecting the resources and the natural environment. Without it, there will be no environment, and consequently no beer. For this reason, sustainability is one of the business goals of Grupa Żywiec, which allows for long-term development in respect for the environment and people. In recent years, we have been able to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in production and distribution while sustainable raw materials are a large part of our ingredients.

However, we are going even further, one of the elements of the strategy for the coming years is climate neutrality throughout the value chain by 2040. That is why, for many years, we have been undertaking a number of activities related to the implementation of this goal. We encourage our consumers to return returnable bottles, which contributes significantly to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Today, the beer industry in Poland is the sector in which reusable packaging is most commonly used. Together with Żywiec Zdrój, we have established the Coalition “We care about water”, whose aim is to protect the water resources of the Żywiec Beskids.

Sustainability is part of our business. Therefore, when responding to current challenges we always try to take into account not only economic but also environmental and social aspects. During the lockdown we supported the catering sector, collecting 35,000 unsold barrels of beer from restaurant owners. However, in order not to discharge it as sewage we decided to process it into biogas which is a natural green source of energy, being a product of anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Thanks to such actions nothing was wasted, and the reuse of beer as a raw material for biogas reduced CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. We are glad that we have finally helped not only the catering industry, but also the environment.

In the brewing industry, there is a well-known saying that the sun is the best seller of beer. Is warming, at least in Poland, not convenient for you?
Global temperatures rise as greenhouse gas emissions rise. Maybe these changes are more visible to the naked eye elsewhere, but our climate is also going to change. But I cannot say that these are changes for the better. Higher temperatures, but also less rainfall in summer and more in winter, droughts, hurricanes and rising sea and ocean levels may become our new everyday life. From the point of view of the person responsible for purchases in Grupa Żywiec, the most important consequences of the changes are the availability and the costs of agricultural products which we use to brew beer. Without barley and water the future generations will not enjoy beer as we know it. Even if it is hot outside.

In that case, what can beer do for the climate?
The climate revolution means a complete transformation of the way we make an impact on the environment. Beer production is an area that we can deal with on our own, reducing emissions primarily through green energy sources – currently 100% of electricity in Grupa Żywiec comes from renewable sources. However, our influence is not limited to production. Beer is made from malt and water, it is packaged and distributed to customers. We can only make changes to the entire chain once consulted with our suppliers. Today, agriculture and the processing of raw materials needed to produce beer account for 35% of our entire carbon footprint. Our ambition is that by the end of this decade, all malt and hops come from sustainable plantations.

Do you use sustainable raw materials in beer production?
Grupa Żywiec was the first on the market to introduce beer brewed from 100% sustainable malt. Specjal – our brand in the north of Poland – was able to offer such a product to consumers thanks to cooperation with Malteurop, which obtains its malt primarily from local, sustainable plantations. We also supported Polish farmers during the pandemic – allocating PLN 5 million for the earlier purchase of malting barley from sustainable plantations.

Grupa Żywiec is one of the pioneers in the promotion of sustainable agriculture in Poland. We are a company that, together with others who think like us, founded the Polish Association of Sustainable Agriculture “ASAP” in order to create and develop the market of sustainable agriculture.  

We also try to take actions in the spirit of “zero waste” on a daily basis. Only the brewery in Żywiec produces about 80,000 tons of spent grain and 10,000 tons of yeast slurry per year. For us, however, these are not waste, as it might seem, but by-products that we care for and prepare in such a way that they can be passed on, as they are a key element for the functioning of other industries. The spent grain from the brewery in Żywiec is entirely intended for fodder – it is a valuable food for cattle. For this reason, we even have a veterinary inspection in the brewery twice a year to verify that all the conditions for qualifying it as fodder are met. In turn, the yeast slurry is a feed additive for animals, not only for cattle, but for many different species, including domestic and farm animals like pigs, horses, and birds, or even pigeons. Nothing is wasted with us. This is an important part of our sustainability strategy.

Is sustainable production in this case compatible with the logic of the market? Sustainable raw materials do not necessarily have to be cheaper than those from other crops?
Today, the challenge is limited supply. We look at it from the point of view of investment, not costs, and the need to build a certain scale. The development of this sector depends on the involvement of producers in cooperation with suppliers and can be a source of competitive advantage in terms of creating value for consumers. Of course, all of this leads to them, because they make the choices in our customers’ stores.

For us, sustainable products are a way to create additional value for our clients and consumers. Also due to the fact that they require larger investments in a short period of time, they deserve communication support and consistent education. The sustainable agriculture sector needs support and a unified trademark, supported by public administration, for products made from such crops which will make it possible to easily find sustainable products on store shelves, and also offer them to our customers. A clean environment in the long term pays off for everyone.

Thank you for the interview!