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Case study: How HEINEKEN is protecting water resources

Demand for water has doubled globally over the past 50 years and is expected to increase by another 40% by 2030. In water-scarce areas this means increased competition for water among industry, the general population, agriculture and ecosystems. HEINEKEN uses water in its finished product – beer is 95% water – and throughout its supply chain and recognizes the critical importance of sustainable use and protection of water in order to safeguard this valuable resource.

This case study is based on the 2014 Sustainability Report by HEINEKEN published on the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database that can be found at this link. Through all case studies we aim to demonstrate that CSR/ sustainability reporting done responsibly is achieved by identifying a company’s most important impacts on the environment and stakeholders and by measuring, managing and changing. 

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As one of the world’s largest brewers and a signatory to the United Nations CEO Water Mandate, HEINEKEN is aware of its responsibility to promote responsible water use and support its suppliers in doing the same. In order to protect water resources HEINEKEN took action to:

  • reduce water consumption in its breweries – HEINEKEN reduced water consumption at its breweries in Mexico by nearly 3.5 million hectolitres in 2014 by optimizing water flows within the production process
  • protect water resources and redress the water balance in water-scarce and water-distressed areas
  • reduce water consumption in its supply chain and
  • ensure that effluent from HEINEKEN’s production units is treated before discharge to surface water

What are the material issues the company has identified?

In its 2014 Sustainability Report HEINEKEN identified a range of material issues, such as advocating responsible consumption, sustainable sourcing, reducing CO2 emissions. Among these, recognizing the critical importance of sustainable use and protection of water, protecting water resources stands out as a key material issue for HEINEKEN.

Stakeholder engagement in accordance with the GRI Standards

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) defines the Principle of Stakeholder Inclusiveness when identifying material issues (or a company’s most important impacts) as follows:

“The organization should identify its stakeholders, and explain how it has responded to their reasonable expectations.”

Stakeholders must be consulted in the process of identifying a company’s most important impacts and their reasonable expectations and interests must be taken into account. This is an important cornerstone for CSR / sustainability reporting done responsibly.

Key stakeholder groups HEINEKEN engages with:

Stakeholder Group Method of engagement (in 2014)
Customers and consumers • In-depth discussions with a number of global retailers

• ‘Brewing a Better World’ interactive area

Employees • HEINEKEN Climate Survey

• Enjoy Responsibly Day

Employee representatives • Regular meetings  with the HEINEKEN European Works Council (EWC)

• Many of HEINEKEN’s Operating Companies are  routinely in dialogue with labour unions and/or have works councils in place



• A group of more than 35 representatives from the European Commission visited HEINEKEN’s brewery in Zoeterwoude, the Netherlands

• Members of HEINEKEN’s executive board actively participated at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014

• HEINEKEN’s CEO co-chaired the World Economic Forum on Africa 2014, held in Abuja, Nigeria in May

• The Heads of State of Burundi and Sierra Leone and the Prime Minister of Democratic Republic of Congo visited HEINEKEN in the Netherlands

Industry associations • Together with the Brewers of Europe, European Aluminium Association and the European Container Glass Federation, HEINEKEN began a pilot scheme for the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) project

• HEINEKEN continued its involvement with a large number of industry platforms and roundtables, including Green Freight Europe, the Beverage Industry Environmental

Roundtable (BIER) and the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition

Investors • HEINEKEN engaged with institutional investors during the Environment Forum in Paris

• HEINEKEN presented at TBLI (Triple Bottom Line Investing) Conferences in New York and Amsterdam  on its Brewing a Better World agenda

• Regular dialogue with shareholder groups such as the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) and the Guilé Foundation

• Routine contact with Eumedion and other investor groups on  a variety of governance and regulatory issues

NGOs and international organisations • Work with NGOs such as EUCORD, The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) and the Clinton Global Initiative in HEINEKEN’s local sourcing projects in Africa and Haiti

• Ongoing dialogue with NGOs on a wide range of topics. These NGOs included Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, WWF, The Humane Society, Both Ends and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Suppliers • Engagement for sustainable raw materials with both individual suppliers, such as HEINEKEN’s packaging suppliers, and suppliers of agricultural products, such as the Hopfenring group of German hop suppliers

• Dialogue with potentially high-risk suppliers through EcoVadis

• HEINEKEN launched ‘Frontier’, a competition to engage new and existing innovative technology suppliers

How stakeholder engagement was made to identify material issues

  • The Brewing a Better World priorities were defined in conversation with HEINEKEN’s stakeholders.
  • To help it in its assessment HEINEKEN started hosting a series of ‘expert meetings’ in 2012. A large group of stakeholders, including NGOs such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, scientists, industry and governments, met with HEINEKEN’s internal specialists to share insights about its sustainability performance.
  • HEINEKEN continued with a new series of meetings in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 organized a special NGO roundtable in Brussels to collect views on its Brewing a Better World strategy and the road ahead.
  • These dialogue sessions helped HEINEKEN build and monitor a prioritised materiality matrix containing the issues, risks and opportunities most relevant to its business and stakeholders.

What actions were taken by HEINEKEN to protect water resources?

In its 2014 Sustainability Report HEINEKEN reports that it took the following actions for protecting water resources:

  • Reducing water consumption in HEINEKEN’s breweries
  • HEINEKEN reached its 2015 target a year early, reducing water consumption by 23% compared with 2008 (the baseline year).
  • For the 23 HEINEKEN breweries in water-scarce and water-distressed areas HEINEKEN tries to find ways to reach a higher target of 3.3 hl/hl.
  • 43 of HEINEKEN’s production units, representing more than 47% of total production volume in 2014, were already below the target of 3.5 hl/hl.
  • HEINEKEN decreased water consumption at its breweries in Mexico by almost 3.5 million hectolitres in 2014 by optimizing water flows within the production process.
  • Since acquiring, in 2011, Bedele Brewery in Ethiopia, the team almost halved water consumption to 5.1 hl/hl in 2014.
  • Protecting water resources in water-scarce and water-distressed areas
  • HEINEKEN has been assessing water-related risks since 2010  Tweet This!, identifying 23 ‘Priority One’ breweries around the world in water-stressed areas, on which HEINEKEN focuses its immediate efforts. For each site, HEINEKEN decides, together with stakeholders, how vulnerable a local area is in terms of water risk and develops a step-by-step method for assessing and implementing water protection measures.
  • In 2014 HEINEKEN focused its activities on its operations in Indonesia, Algeria and Nigeria.
  • By the end of 2015 each of the 23 ‘Priority One’ sites should have a protection plan ready.
  • Redressing the water balance in water-scarce and water-distressed areas
  • In order to protect water resources in water-scarce and water-distressed areas, HEINEKEN works to redress the water balance by financing and supporting local projects aimed to:
    • conserve or restore water quantity, quality or biodiversity in the local watershed and/or
    • improve access to clean water for the local communities
  • Ethiopia: HEINEKEN’s public-private partnership between the Harar Brewery, local government, Vitens International and other partners began to evaluate the area’s future water needs and the scope for building sand dams for sustainable groundwater storage. In November 2014 a platform was launched to engage all relevant local stakeholders in the Harar region and increase awareness regarding the significance of trans-boundary watershed management.
  • Mexico: since the Monterrey Metropolitan Water Fund was established in 2013, reforestation of 50 hectares of severely degraded land began at the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. A density of 1,000 seedlings per hectare will be used. The ultimate goal of the fund is preservation of the San Juan River watershed, which supplies more than four million people in and around Monterrey.
  • Reducing water consumption in HEINEKEN’s supply chain
  • Water usage in growing HEINEKEN’s crops (mainly barley) represents around 90% of its total water footprint. Barley has a relatively low water footprint compared with other crops, but in some sourcing areas structural irrigation is needed to maintain optimal soil moisture and changing rainfall patterns as well as rising temperatures may lead to more irrigation in the future. HEINEKEN strives to address this challenge through its sustainable sourcing activities and its work with the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI). Based on stakeholder consultations begun in 2014, a project group was formed to enhance HEINEKEN’s understanding of water and agriculture, identify sourcing areas and ‘hot spots’ and look for opportunities for improvement.
  • Ensuring that effluent from HEINEKEN’s production units is treated before discharge to surface water
  • HEINEKEN ensures that effluent from its production units is treated before discharge to surface water, either through its own or third- party treatment.
  • 2014: HEINEKEN’s production facilities discharged an estimated total of 25.9 kton of organic load into surface water, compared with 23.1 kton in 2013. The increase was mainly due to better and more complete data available in 2014, compared to 2013.

Which GRI indicators/Standards have been addressed?

The GRI indicators/Standards addressed in this case are:

1) G4-15: List externally developed economic, environmental and social charters, principles, or other initiatives to which the organization subscribes or which it endorses. – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 102-12 External initiatives

2) G4-16: List memberships of associations (such as industry associations) and national or international advocacy organizations in which the organization:

3) G4-EN9: Water sources significantly affected by withdrawal of water – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 303-2 Water sources significantly affected by withdrawal of water

4) G4-EN10: Percentage and total volume of water recycled and reused – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 303-3 Water recycled and reused

5) G4-EN12: Description of significant impacts of activities, products, and services on biodiversity in protected areas and areas of high biodiversity value outside protected areas – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 304-2 Significant impacts of activities, products, and services on biodiversity

6) G4-EN13: Habitats protected or restored – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 304-3 Habitats protected or restored

7) G4-EN22: Total water discharge by quality and destination – the updated GRI Standard is: Disclosure 306-1 Water discharge by quality and destination

8) G4-EN27: Extent of impact mitigation of environmental impacts of products and services



1) This case study was compiled using published information by Heineken which is located at the links below. For the sake of readability, we did not use brackets or ellipses but made sure that the extra or missing words did not change the report’s meaning. If you would like to quote these written sources from the original please revert to the following links:

http://static.globalreporting.org/report-pdfs/2015/4906c6c8cd9d9c27fcb4c5c4d2656ddf.pdf (2014 Sustainability Report by HEINEKEN)

http://www.theheinekencompany.com/sustainability/brewing-a-better-world/defining-our-priorities (June 2016)

http://www.theheinekencompany.com/sustainability/focus-areas/protecting-water-resources (June 2016)

2)  http://www.fbrh.co.uk/en/global-reporting-initiative-gri-g4-guidelines-download-page

3) https://g4.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx

4) https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/gri-standards-download-center/

Note to HEINEKEN: With each case study we send out an email to your listed address in request for a comment on this case study. If you have not received such an email please contact us.



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