Marco Ugarte

Partnership is Key in Water Sustainability

MillerCoors recently attended the Business of Water, Corporate Leaders Summit on Water and the Economy co-hosted by business networks Protect the Flows and Change the Course, where more than 150 leaders from corporations, water agencies and business associations convened to share sustainable water strategies in the face of diminishing supply. We were there because water is our most critical resource, and we know that to best protect that resource we must team up with other companies, non-profits and the federal government so that we can advance our joint sustainability goals to be as strategic as possible in how we use and protect our water supplies. In 2015, our breweries saved over 128 million gallons of water across the country. This advanced our environmental commitment as well as benefited our bottom line.

As we endeavor to further maximize our water efficiencies, MillerCoors needs to think beyond the four walls of our manufacturing facilities. Only 10% of our water footprint is at the factory. The overwhelming majority of our water use is in the upstream agricultural supply chain, where our barley and other beer ingredients are grown. So we have historically partnered with 885 farmers across Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to help them harness technology solutions that would make the soil more resilient and improve water efficiency on their farms.

Water efficiency is also getting attention at the federal level. The Obama Administration, concerned about the need for better water efficiencies in drought-stricken areas of the American West, recently issued a Presidential Memorandum and an Action Plan directing federal agencies to work more collaboratively on drought recovery and drought resilience in key watersheds. And this June, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior acted on this directive and announced their plans to coordinate programs in the Colorado River basin.

At MillerCoors, we’re excited about continuing our partnership with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program. NRCS works with individual farming operations to help growers enhance their use of water, in many cases saving thousands of acre-feet of water per year on individual farms.

We also look forward to exploring opportunities with the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) WaterSMART program.

Partnership opportunities should emerge with these programs as California’s Central Valley collaboration model is now extended into the drought-challenged region of the Colorado River basin. With federal funding from both agencies applied to the programs strategically in the basin, the effectiveness of the programs will be increased, making water deliveries more efficient and at the same time helping individual farmers make more efficient use of the water delivered.

We know firsthand that NRCS makes an excellent partner. Since 2012, NRCS and MillerCoors have partnered to improve water quality and increase water efficiency by working together to help farmers and ranchers use water more efficiently and reduce the sediment and nutrients leaving their farms — improving water quality downstream. It will be these kinds of partnerships in places like the Colorado River basin, between business, agriculture and government agencies, that will amplify the impacts of water conservation efforts and protect our vital watersheds — benefiting businesses and our environment alike.

There is no question, especially in areas with limited water resources like the Colorado River basin, that the more we work together, the better the outcome for a more resilient and sustainable water system to keep our nation thriving.

Marco Ugarte is Sustainability Manager for MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company which a offers a variety of craft and import beer brands. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the company is committed to using water resources sustainably both in the agricultural supply chain and in its breweries.