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PurchasingB2B

Will beer save the planet?

Technology may now be poised to make a contribution to protecting the environment


August 27, 2018
by Michael Power

From the August 2018 print edition

Michael Power is editor of PurchasingB2B magazine.

Kudos to Iceland, not the country but a small British retailer, which has partnered with craft brewer Tiny Rebel to make as a sustainable beer. Iceland is a Welsh supermarket chain that, along with Tiny Rebel, is taking surplus, unsold bread and creating a beer called Bread Board.

Tiny Rebel’s website notes that the beer has “citrusy, tropical aroma and a bit of a bitter edge.” Yum.

Iceland has also pledged to eliminate plastic packaging from its own brand of products by 2023, and will donate 10p from every bottle of Bread Board sold to the charity, Surfers Against Sewage.

Sustainability is everywhere, which illustrates the consumer demand for environmentally friendly, socially responsible brands and products.

And while not the only environmental concern, global warming gets much of the headlines. That’s not surprising. In 2016, we saw the highest surface temperatures since recording began in 1880.

Technology—usually the 20th Century kind like the internal combustion engine, certain manufacturing and transportation methods—gets much of the blame for rising temperatures.

But while not solving all problems, 21st Century technology can help lower GHG and improve the planet’s environmental standing. How?

Social media: Good luck hiding anything these days. The 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Sri Lanka grabbed attention largely through social media. Consumers can now discover exactly where a product is made, and how ethical the manufacturing process is, with a few clicks. This puts more pressure on companies to ensure everything is as ethical and sustainable as possible. Companies can spot risky suppliers more easily than ever. So can everyone else.

Sustainable logistics: as Google Canada’s marketing head Fab Dolan describes in our story on page 42, UPS uses machine learning to ensure their truck almost never make right turns—that saves time and fuel, as well as avoiding the equivalent of 20,000 passenger cars. Many fleets use telematics to identify harsh breaking, speeding and other fuel-wasting habits. Automated, electric and connected vehicles hold the promise of reducing the environmental impact of moving goods and people.

Blockchain: The distributed digital ledger behind cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology can enhance supply chain traceability. A product can be given a “cryptographic” identifier at the beginning of its international journey, which makes it easier to track. The product’s lifecycle is stored on a blockchain archive.

This helps to ensure the product has been responsibly sourced. Walmart uses blockchain technology to track pork sourced in China. Blockchain records show where each piece of meat came from, along with where it’s processed and stored. Several other companies have begun using blockchain for similar purposes.

The environmental issues we face seem daunting and overwhelming. But technology holds promise for helping procurement and supply chain make more sustainable and ethical decisions. That’s worth raising a glass of sustainable beer over.