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Budweiser clarifies ‘100% renewable electricity’ claim

Budweiser has been compelled to clarify a statement on its website asserting that its beer is brewed using “100% renewable” energy, following a complaint.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the advertising regulator, “informally resolved” the complaint, which means Budweiser agreed to substantiate the claim and provide details about its use of fossil fuels, and the issue was not publicized.

Budweiser’s UK website homepage now includes an asterisk next to the statement “Budweiser is brewed with 100% renewable electricity”.

A clarification at the bottom of the page outlines the electricity it consumes and the renewable electricity it generates.

Since March, the footnote of the page has stated, “The actual electricity used to brew Budweiser is not from 100% renewable sources”.

It further explains, “Budweiser ensures that an equivalent amount of energy is generated under green energy agreements to offset the amount of non-renewable energy used from the National Grid to power our brewing processes.”

The asterisk note reveals that Budweiser’s two renewable energy sources are an on-site wind turbine directly connected to its brewery in Magor, Wales, and a 20-year contract for the operation of two solar panel farms in Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire, which the company claims generate more electricity than its breweries need.

What was the complaint about?

Before the ASA assessed the complaint earlier this year, the website simply stated the “100% renewable sources” claim without providing a breakdown of its energy consumption and production.

The complainant, Irish senator Lynn Boylan, argued that the text was misleading and could not be substantiated.

Any connection to the National Grid will be powered by electricity from a variety of sources that make up Britain’s fuel mix, including wind and solar power, as well as nuclear, oil, and gas generators.

The proportion of renewables and fossil fuels fluctuates daily depending on weather conditions.

It is impossible to filter out electricity generated from fossil fuels from the National Grid supply before it enters a specific home or business.

Businesses claiming to use “100% renewable electricity” often employ a complex trading system where certificates are purchased for renewable energy produced somewhere in Europe.

This electricity does not enter the UK fuel mix and National Grid.

What is a REGO?

Budweiser, owned by multinational beverage company AB InBev, was able to make the “100% renewable” claim because it purchases certificates known as renewable energy guarantees of origin (REGO).

These certificates pay for renewable energy produced elsewhere and are intended to promote renewable energy production.

Budweiser purchases REGOs to offset the amount of non-renewable energy used from the National Grid to power its brewing, according to the website.

Energy regulator Ofgem has criticized REGOs.

In a report for a parliamentary debate in 2018, it stated, “We also note that suppliers can buy REGOs cheaply, so it is easy and cheap for suppliers to ‘green’ some tariffs.

“As such, our starting point is that simply having renewables in the portfolio is not enough to demonstrate that a tariff is providing support for renewables. We do not have sufficient evidence that existing renewable tariffs provide additional environmental benefit beyond existing renewable generation.”

A government review was initiated in 2021 to examine how energy retailers market ‘green’ electricity tariffs to consumers, a process that involves REGOs.

‘Few people will read the fine print’

After Budweiser added the clarification to its UK website, the ASA told Sky News, “We considered these changes were sufficient to resolve the matter informally.”

However, the complainant, Irish senator Lynn Boylan, has appealed against the ASA’s decision to accept a change of the Budweiser website and not issue a full ruling. She described the regulator’s response as “very disappointing”.

“While my complaint has been vindicated in principle, in practice the consequences for Budweiser (UK) are far too weak,” she said.

“The reality – that fossil fuels are used in brewing Budweiser – is buried while the big lie – that 100% renewables are used – is allowed to continue. Few people will read the fine print to learn the claim is false.”

Ms Boylan’s complaint was submitted to the UK watchdog after a similar grievance was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland.

A statement from Budweiser Brewing Group UK and Ireland said: “AB InBev UK buys and produces more renewable electricity than it uses in its breweries. This is documented through a European-wide system of REGOs or GoOs ( Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin) which is a regulated scheme, administered in the UK by Ofgem.”

“Our sources of renewable electricity for the UK breweries are: A near-site wind turbine directly connected to our brewery in Magor, Wales. A 20-year virtual power purchase agreement (the VPPA) providing for the operation of solar panel farms (Grange in Nottinghamshire and South Lowfield in West Yorkshire) which generate more electricity than our breweries require,” the statement continued.

“The UK&I team have taken this complaint seriously and have worked with the ASA to amend the website to reflect all changes requested.”

“The ASA have said that they believe the changes we have made will resolve the complaint without the need for a formal ruling by the ASA council”.

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