The Ripple Effect: MillerCoors Pioneers Energy Savings & Water Conservation

Laurel Griffith

Monday, September 24th, 2012

"What is now proved was once only imagined." - William Blake

MillerCoors values innovation. The corporation encourages employees to think critically, to turn problems into opportunities and to look past the status quo. Dave Dixon, environmental engineer at the Albany brewery, explains how the corporate emphasis shapes local culture. “Since there is no push to do things the same way, we have hundreds of teams looking for new ideas. We are pioneering energy savings and water conservation.” Dixon says the emphasis on innovation gives people the freedom to experiment without fear. “If you have never failed, you have never tried.”

Clean water is essential to life and to making quality beer, so it makes sense for MillerCoors to be concerned with water conservation and quality. Dixon says the company is committed to working on water sustainability, both locally and nationwide. One part of that commitment is to understand the company’s water footprint – how water is used within the business and throughout the supply chain, and then to address water conservation throughout the brewing process.

The brewery’s commitment extends beyond rhetoric and meeting minimum standards. Dixon explains, “We do more than is required. We are committed to environmental sustainability. Many of our projects directly benefit the company, but sometimes we do things just because it is the right thing to do. We want to make sure we have water for ourselves and for our children.”

This dual-focus – innovation plus sustainability - means MillerCoors puts feet to belief, action to words. Dixon says “Leave it better than you found it” is more than a slogan or an adage.

Last April the MillerCoors Albany brewery was recognized as Industrial Waste Water Treatment Plant of the Year by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals. The process that garnered the recognition uses hungry microbes to break down sludge, which is a by-product of beer production. At the completion of that process, waste particles are completely removed and two-thirds of the water used for brewing is put back into the Flint River, “cleaner than it was before.” The remaining sludge is used to fertilize an on-site 425-acre USDA-approved hay farm.

Dixon is proud of the award, and the savings it has brought the brewery, but believes the real value of the system is in the contribution it makes to the community. “We want to make sure the river stays clean for people. This is a people thing. We live and work here too.”

Ionic air rinsing technology was installed at the Albany brewery after Dixon read how Coca-Cola was using the technology. Today this innovation saves the Albany brewery between six and nine million gallons of water each year.

Dixon describes the ionic rinsing process. “A charged, pressurized jet of air cleans aluminum cans prior to filling them with beer. We use this instead of rinsing the cans with water. The ionized air neutralizes the charge on the cans as they pass through the rinser. This causes dust particles to drop off so the can is clean and ready to use.” He says that never using water is the best kind of conservation. “It stays in the ground for future generations.”

Dixon points to a third example of company innovation. This time the technology came from California and the project had nothing to do with water.

MillerCoors needed to replace a roof on one of the brewery’s buildings, one of the hottest buildings on-site. Dixon remembered reading about cool roofs, which are roofs coated with a substance designed to reflect 90% of the sun’s rays. He is pleased with the results of this latest project. “There was a cost involved with the installation, but we were planning to replace the roof anyway. We put 500 square feet of cool roofing on one of the hottest buildings in the plant and we are getting a return on energy savings. It is easier on the equipment, but the main benefit is for the people. It has reduced the interior temperature by 10 degrees and that is significant.”

Dixon points out that commitment to conservation is seen in small changes as well as the large projects. “We are constantly looking for new ideas, things we can try here.

Whether it is examining our packaging and keeping material out of the landfills, or providing grants to others who are working on water conservation, MillerCoors is committed to sustainability and to our communities. We are out on the leading edge and we don’t ever want to get behind. For most of us, innovation and sustainability is a passion and we have the privilege of seeing the results in our community every day.”

About Laurel Griffith

Laurel Griffith is a freelance writer. Before moving to Albany, she published a magazine for six years in Dothan, AL.