Bottoms Up!

Green Award Winner 2017 Employing Green Practices: Heineken

Heineken USA has reduced the carbon emissions required to import its Mexican beers into the U.S. by 29 percent.

Grab a chilled Heineken, pop the cap, and take a long draw. That green bottle is a symbol of the upscale taste that many beer lovers appreciate, but it has also come to represent a company that leads its peers in green business practices. 

Heineken, the world’s third-largest brewer, has a history that dates back to 1864 when the company was established in Amsterdam, and by 1933, the green bottles began arriving on American shores. Heineken USA was established in 1995 and has since developed Brewing a Better World, an impressive campaign that focuses on environmental sustainability, responsible citizens, and building inclusive communities. It has been named a 2017 Green Award winner for its accomplishments.

According to industry figures, fewer than 50 percent of glass bottles are recycled. With responsibility for producing millions of bottles per year, Heineken USA thought recycling rates should be drastically increased and went looking for a solution. “We found The Recycling Partnership and determined it was the premiere group and our best fit for curbside recycling,” says Dayna Adelman, corporate social-responsibility director at Heineken USA’s headquarters in White Plains. TRP, a national recycling non-profit that works to improve residential recycling, collaborates with its brand ambassadors to reach out to educate consumers and raise the bar on recycling. Heineken USA, the first alcohol-brand coalition member, not only funded a 2016 study on increasing the recyclability of glass but also sponsored some fun and games.

At soccer’s International Champions Cup here in the States last year, Heineken USA teamed up with TRP to “challenge consumers to represent their clubs by placing their recyclables in specially marked bins in our beer garden,” explains Adelman. “Sensors on each container tracked the total amount of bottles and cans recycled, and which team was in the lead. Supporters of A.C. Milan, Bayern Munich, Chelsea Football Club, and Real Madrid had the opportunity to score points against their rival fans by recycling the most products on behalf of their team.” 

How does Heineken USA’s outreach help with residential recycling closer to home? “One of our priorities is consumer engagement. Recycling rules differ from one municipality to the next,” Adelman says. “So in our efforts to make consumers recycling champions, we have to help them become informed about local policies.” To that end, the company is looking to make recycling a key element of its 2017 annual day of giving in Westchester. 

Recycling is just one aspect of the company’s environmental sustainability efforts. Another is reducing the company’s carbon footprint. In 2010, the Dutch beer giant bought a Mexican portfolio of beers—brands such as Dos Equis, Tecate, and Sol—from south of the border. The popularity of these brands led to an increase in transportation—trucking from Mexico to the U.S., which led to greater CO2 emissions.

After completing a study on transportation options, Heineken USA determined that sea-based transportation would result in a savings of more than 10,000 tons of CO2 per year—a 29-percent decrease! A happy bonus was that an environmentally beneficial change was also better for customers—95 percent of deliveries arrived on time after the change, versus 89 percent beforehand. 

Finally, Heineken USA took a look at its packaging, which is the largest component of the company’s carbon footprint. “Not only do packaging materials and processing lead to carbon emission,” Adelman explains, “but they also cause greater stress on natural resources and increase waste.” Heineken USA has managed to reduce the impact of its packaging by identifying areas for light-weighting its secondary packaging (the cardboard carriers), which will reduce its carbon emissions and waste without compromising quality.

But Adelman says there’s still a lot of room for improvement, adding, “As someone who imports into the market, it’s our responsibility to recycle.”

Used bottles of beer in the wall: In the 1960s, Heineken pioneered upcycling—using its own discarded bottles to build what it called a WOBO House. 

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