May 25, 2010


Asahi Breweries: Developing Sustainable Business Activities Using the Gifts of Nature

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.92 (April 2010)
"Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work" (No. 90)

Asahi Breweries, Ltd., kept the number-one position in beer sales volume in Japan for twelve straight years after launching "Asahi Super Dry," Japan's first "dry" draft beer. It went on sale in 1987, became a huge hit in the beer industry, and has maintained the company's popularity as a major brand since then. The company, which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2009, produces a variety of beer products and other alcoholic beverages to meet the diverse needs of its customers. The Asahi Breweries Group as a whole is expanding its business to products other than alcohol, food, and pharmaceuticals.

Business activities that depend on the gifts of natural resources like water and grain can be performed only in a sustainable global environment. The company has been tackling environmental issues from various angles, such as the prevention of global warming, water resources conservation, waste reduction, and environment-conscious containers and packaging. We asked Mr. Yoshinobu Takeda, General Manager of Asahi's Social & Environmental Management Department, about its latest approaches.

World's First New "PIE Boiling Method" Reduces CO2 Emissions by 30%

"Our company has thoroughly reduced its carbon dioxide (C02) emissions during the beer production process by introducing energy-saving technologies and converting fuel to natural gas, and we thought that we had tried everything we could. But then we reviewed every process to develop a new technology in 2008," says Takeda. The technology Asahi ended up developing is called the Pre-Isomeriser & Evaporator (IPE) method.

Boiling is the process that requires the largest amount of energy in beer brewing. Previously, sweet wort and hops were boiled in the same tank. With the new PIE method, hops are boiled separately in a smaller tank to make the unwanted components of the hops evaporate, and then added into the tank of sweet wort. This method cut down the entire boiling time and successfully reduced CO2 emissions during the boiling process by about 30 percent. As a secondary effect, the PIE method improved the quality of beer, resulting in keeping the head on beer longer. It also streamlined the process of boiling hops, and reduced the consumption of hops by about 5 percent.

Including the first introduction of its Asahi Super Dry beer brand manufacturing line at the Suita Brewery in Osaka, in September 2008, five of its nine breweries throughout the country have since introduced the PIE method. The company plans to gradually promote adoption of the technology at the rest of its domestic breweries.

The Asahi Forest -- Playing Various Roles Through the Decades

In the cities of Shobara and Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture, there stands the Asahi Forest, more than 2,165 hectares of corporate-owned forestland. In 1941, Dai Nippon Brewery Co., the predecessor of Asahi Breweries, originally purchased the mountain forestland to secure a source of cork material for the crown caps of its beer bottles. Concerned that cork imports might be discontinued due to the Second World War, the company was planning to use the bark of the Chinese Cork Oak trees (Quercus variabilis) that grow naturally in western Japan as a substitute for the cork.

The Chinese Cork Oak was not used in the end, but the forest has been conserved for over half a century. Asahi Breweries maintains the policy that "to protect the forest is to protect our core business," since natural resources are essential to beer production. After the war, to continue its forest management, the company planted cedar and cypress trees, while keeping some Chinese Cork Oak trees. The Asahi Forest was eventually designated as a watershed protection forest based on Japan's Forest Law.

In 2001, Asahi received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international forest certification organization, for upgrading its forest management practices and improving its employees' environmental awareness. The FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to certify responsible forest management that pays attention to economic sustainability and consideration of ecosystem health. The Asahi Forest is the third of its kind in Japan.

Today, in order to utilize its forest resources as much as possible, wood taken as a result of thinning practices in the Asahi Forest is used for disposable chopsticks, wooden puzzles, and other products, some of which are sold at stores in the breweries. Woodchips are used as construction materials for sound and fire insulation, used to generate electricity, or burned in pellet stoves. Thus, the forest has played various roles in accordance with each era under Asahi's care. "The forest is a treasure house of precious animals and plants. One of the rare species confirmed there is the Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus, a kind of hawk). We make it a rule to protect and nurture this ecosystem, and plan to keep growing trees in about five hectares of a certain area for 200 years to utilize the lumber for repairing the cultural assets of old temples," says Takeda, emphasizing the importance of sustainable forest management.

Pass on the Good Taste to Tomorrow! -- Donating One Yen per Can or Bottle of Beer

In Spring 2009, Asahi Breweries started the project named "Pass on the Good Taste to Tomorrow!" by which one yen (about one U.S. cent) is donated per sale of each can or bottle of its main product Asahi Super Dry beer to environmental protection and preservation activities.

Asahi Breweries to Donate Part of Sales Proceeds for Environmental Protection

The initial target areas of the project were four prefectures in the Shikoku Region, where good examples of initiatives are found commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Shikoku Brewery. Donations were given to forest conservation projects in Ehime and Tokushima Prefectures, a forest-matching project in Kagawa Prefecture, and towards water quality conservation in the water system of the Niyodo River in Kochi Prefecture. Local employees also joined in on the initiatives.

From late March to late April 2009, donations from the sales of Asahi Super Dry beer were collected from all over the country for the first time, and reached about 220 million yen (about U.S.$237,000). The second campaign was held in the fall of that year, and the donations reached 460 million yen (about $495,000) in total. The third campaign is being conducted with beer produced from late March to late April 2010.

Based on sales volume, the donations are distributed to each of the 47 prefectures and used for supporting local initiatives to conserve biodiversity and other activities specific to each area. Supported initiatives include the conservation of a wetland registered under the Ramsar Convention in Hokkaido, efforts to release Japanese Crested Ibises (Nipponia nippon) into the wild in Niigata Prefecture, and the Aichi-Nagoya COP10 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Promotion Committee in Aichi Prefecture.

The company also installed photovoltaic solar systems at public elementary schools in Tokyo, and gives lectures to schoolchildren to inspire them with interest in solar power generation. Takeda, one of the lecturers, says, "When I explained global warming and the functions of forests to the children, they showed great interest in the topics. Elementary schoolchildren today are well aware of environmental issues." This initiative led to the "New Deal for Schools" program for upgrading public school facilities, including the installation of solar power systems, formulated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2009.

Asahi's Goal: Reduce CO2 Emissions by 30% by 2020 Compared to 2008

In its "Environmental Vision 2020," established in January 2010, the Asahi Breweries Group set a goal of reducing its CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2020 compared to 2008 levels. All 35 Group companies (450 operation sites as of January 2010) share the aim of achieving the goal by improving efficiency in the areas of production and distribution. Specifically, they are focusing on the review of the production process, such as the adoption of the PIE boiling method mentioned earlier, development of environmentally friendly products, and introduction of energy-saving vending machines that use a heat-pump system.

The active use of renewable energy sources is also essential. Asahi Breweries installed in 2007 a photovoltaic solar system -- the largest of any introduced by a beer company in Japan -- at its Hakata Brewery in Fukuoka Prefecture. In 2009, the company also entered into a contract with Japan Natural Energy Co. to purchase 40 million kilowatt-hours per year of electricity generated by wind and biomass energy sources. This is the largest green power purchase contract so far in the Japanese food industry. The green power is used for producing cans of Asahi Super Dry beer (350 ml size), as well as for supplying the entire power needs of the company's headquarters. In recognition of these efforts, Asahi Breweries won the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy Director-General's Award at the 14th New Energy Awards, sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, at the end of 2009. The company plans to continue increasing its use of renewable energy.

The products produced using green power are allowed to bear the Green Energy Mark logo designated by the government. Takeda says, "Since we started printing the logo on the cans of Asahi Super Dry beer (350 ml size), many people have asked about it. The logo has prompted people to think more about the environment."

Asahi First Brewery in Japan to Produce Beer with Green Power

Consumers will have more opportunities to become aware of environmental issues through familiar products such as Asahi Super Dry beer. This is a time when businesses and consumers must work increasingly hand-in-hand to achieve a sustainable global environment, so we will continue to closely watch with interest the progress of the Asahi Breweries Group's initiatives toward 2020.

Written by Taeko Ohno

See also: Zero Emissions - Asahi Breweries