Global water crisis
It is estimated that water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population and is projected to rise. 663 million people do not have access to clean water and over 1.7 billion people currently live in river basins where water usage exceeds replenishment. Due to this clean water shortage, millions of people die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of floods and droughts, thus worsening the situation. In response, the United Nations has prioritized the reduction of water scarcity in its sustainable development goals, promising to provide clean water and sanitation to all by 2030. 
ABInBev’s water needs
Anheuser-Busch InBev (“ABInBev” or the “Company) is the world’s largest brewer and consumes 1.5bn hectoliters of water per annum. For every 1 liter of beer produced, ABInBev consumes more than 32 liters of water, 3.2 liters of which is used in the brewing process. The other c.90% of water consumption is used for crop cultivation. Water crises, in the form of floods or droughts, affect crop cultivation and beer production. Water is critical to the production of beer and is the largest risk to the Company related to climate change. 
In the pursuit of profits, ABInBev risks siphoning water supply from humans, especially in water crisis prone areas in North America, South America, Asia and Africa. There comes a point when an additional liter of water for beer production is not worth the risk in some of the geographies the Company operates in. To continue operating sustainably, it should be ABInBev’s goal to reduce, and possibly eliminate, water scarcity risk in its supply chain.
What is ABInBev doing about this?
The Company has put in places several measures that aim to reduce water usage and increase supply of water to communities in and around the Company’s operations. 
A Technical Advisory Committee has been formed to provide guidance on the Company’s water initiatives. It’s made up of experts on watersheds, water systems and sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, the Company introduced a “water risk assessment” framework that monitors water risk in the business and its potential impact.
Social initiatives aimed at customers
The “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign was launched in partnership with Water.org. The campaign asks for a $6.25 donation (to purchase a Stella Artois chalice) with the proceeds being used to provide clean water to one woman for 5 years. The programme has raised US$3m thus far. 
Water usage initiatives
Best practice farming and water management techniques that improve water usage are being implemented at the farms that cultivate crops for ABInBev. At brewing facilities, the company aims to reduce water consumption from 3.2 liters of water per liter of beer to 3.0 liters of water per liter of beer, by 2020 – a 6% improvement over 4 years. 
Tackling water availability
In India, where two of its breweries had alternative water sources, ABInBev was successful at tapping these sources to supplement water supply from municipalities. In other areas, such as Ghana and Zambia, where clean water alternatives are not available, the Company may need to consider investing in water treatment facilities to operate at capacity. 
With growing water scarcity, companies such as ABInBev can be perceived as the problem regardless of how efficient they are. Due to community pressure, ABInBev had to withdraw an application for a permit to draw water from an aquifer in El Salvador for a water bottling plant. Although it’s not beer production facility, it’s not a stretch to imagine the same occurring at beer production facilities in water scarce communities in the future.
What else could be done?
In a world where 40% of the population does not have access to clean water and water scarcity is deteriorating, ABInBev should ensure that it not only does it maintain the existing water supply, but that it also improves it. As an organization that has the potential to do good on a global scale and is also exposed to the same water scarcity risks as the rest of us, ABInBev should be doing more.
To positively contribute to the water supply, ABInBev should consider the following:
- Investing in water purification and desalination plants;
- Committing a percentage of its profits (and disclose the amount) to clean water initiatives;
- Investing in R&D for water conservation efforts in the crop cultivation and brewing process; and
- Making themselves accountable, and report on, water usage at crop cultivation stage. They have de-emphasised this in their recent investor reports.
Generally, where should the Company’s responsibility to contribute positively to the clean water supply end and is it already doing enough? What more could ABInBev do? Furthermore, given the nature of this crisis, is regulatory intervention inevitable and how could ABInBev respond to volume and price control on water sourcing?
 – United Nations, “Water”, Accessed Nov. 2017. http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/water/
 – ABInBev, “Better World Report 2016”, Accessed Nov. 2017. http://www.ab-inbev.com/content/dam/universaltemplate/ab-inbev/BetterWorld2/reporting/better_world_report/ABInBev_2016BWR.pdf
 – SABMiller, “Sustainable Development Report 2016”, Accessed Nov. 2017. http://www.ab-inbev.com/content/dam/universaltemplate/ab-inbev/investors/sabmiller/reports/sustainable-development-reports/sustainable-development-report-2016.pdf
 – Stella Artois, “Buy a Lady a Drink”, Accessed Nov. 2017. http://www.stellaartois.com/en_us/buy-a-lady-a-drink.html
 – The Guardian, “SABMiller: More Beer From Less Water”, 30 May 2012, Accessed Nov. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/best-practice-exchange/sabmiller-more-beer-less-water
 – Financial Times, “Water supply threatens the flow of SABMiller’s Zambian expansion”, 10 July 2015, Accessed Nov. 2017. https://www.ft.com/content/359801aa-2403-11e5-bd83-71cb60e8f08c