Responsibilities of the Alcohol Industry

Published on April 13th, 2011 | by

There has been increasing discussion recently as to the role of corporate social responsibility throughout the alcohol industry. Of course CSR policies can and should be applied to companies throughout the private sector although my guess is that most people’s first thoughts don’t shoot to the beer, wine and spirits industry. Whether policies in that arena are changing or not is yet to be seen, but there does appear to be considerably more chatter going on.

The alcohol industry’s approach to CSR is not only different from other industries, as a result of its product and the product’s immediate impact on society, but I think one could argue it is substantially more complex and therefore difficult to implement effectively (this is in no way letting the industry off the hook, if anything they need to work harder at achieving CSR goals). In a rather brief report, the International Center for Alcohol Policies, discusses some of these issues. On the one hand, you have the normal CSR concerns for a company offering a tangible product. There are environmental concerns in regards to packaging, shipping, water usage (especially in the manufacturing of beer), recycling etc. Also not unique to the industry is the necessity of addressing worker treatment and compensation along with safety concerns and general well being. However, as a direct result of the effects of the industries’ products we have a laundry list of well-documented social concerns such as drunk driving, alcoholism, domestic violence and vandalism (admittedly some can be much more easily attributed to alcohol than others).

We talk about businesses’ CSR policies achieving positive outcomes and addressing social ills within their communities, but the alcohol industry must take this many steps further. Of course, these companies also have a business to run. It’s to their advantage to increase their market (and market share), but in doing so they must still focus on the health of their customers, just like a company would by providing solid health insurance so their employees can come to work every day.

Just to pick one company at random, I took a look at the MillerCoors 2010 Sustainable Development Report and it’s broken down into five sections (also an extra point for presentation). The first is alcohol responsibility, then environmental sustainability, sustainable supply chain, people and community investment and ethics and transparency. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the report as far as what they are doing or not, but clearly there is potentially more going on here than in your normal, say, fruit juice company.

I guess my real interest is in the “alcohol responsibility” section. Here they have a four-point target of help prevent drunk driving, reduce underage access to alcohol, ensure adherence to our strict marketing standards and partner to address college campus issues. So my question is, is this what basically amounts to green washing for the alcohol industry? I’m not sure. As I said earlier, it’s definitely in their best interest to keep people healthy so I’ll accept number one. I’ll try to take two (although one can never start brand awareness too early) and three on good faith. Number four I don’t buy because college students, a) buy a ton of beer and b) will soon be their “legal” target as they will be the ones purchasing a lot of cheaply produced and widely available beer such as Miller and Coors.

I’m interested to see how much pressure is put on these companies both internally and externally to adhere to standards throughout their sustainability reports. I’m also concerned that because these companies use so much water to produce so much watered-down beer, my favorite micro-brews will struggle. Hopefully I will be proven wrong.

mage Credit by lopolis via Flickr under a CC license


About the Author

Jonathan has worked in both journalism and various facets of small business development over the past eight years. Most recently, he graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (graduate school of Middlebury College) in 2010 with an MBA and an MA in International Development Policy. His interests include SME development and its role in economic growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as how CSR/Sustainability measures impact both business operations and the communities in which businesses operate. While at MIIS he worked as a summer fellow involved in small business consulting in Accra, Ghana and was an active member of the MIIS Net Impact chapter. As a life long traveler, Jonathan has been fortunate to have lived in, worked in or visited over 20 countries on 5 continents and he truly hopes that he will be able to continue this trend.
  • CBuck

    Interesting… any stats on the water usage? From experience brewing my own beer, I don’t recall using any excessive amounts of water, save for all the rinsing and sanitizing of equipment. Some of the water definitely gets absorbed by the grains during the “sparging” process, but that stuff can actually be reused I believe…

  • Jonathan Banco

    Thank’s for the question on water usage. Seeing that it is an important issue for the industry I have decided to address that in much more detail in my next post. Stay tuned…