Nexus Thinking: Water, Food and Energy Belong Together

Sustainability nexus thinking by SABMillerWhy is it so important to look at sustainability issues related to water, food, and energy together, rather than treating each of them a potential problem on their own? Brewing conglomerate SABMiller (selling brands Grolsch, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Miller, among many others) is one of the frontrunners in the business community promoting nexus thinking. As their website states: “Water, food and energy are interconnected. Agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use and can pollute freshwater supplies if mismanaged.  Water is also used to generate electricity: in the USA, power generation accounts for about 50% of all freshwater withdrawals and drought in countries that use hydropower – Ethiopia and Ghana, for example – can lead to black-outs.  Energy, in turn, is needed to fertilise and transport crops, which can themselves be used as biofuel to create energy. Large amounts of energy are also required to pump water to drier regions and, as water scarcity increases, so will the energy needed for technologies such as desalination. 

Given these trade-offs and interactions, successfully addressing the triple challenge of water stress, food security and energy supplies means taking a holistic view and balancing the many competing demands.  We call this interconnected issue the water-food-energy nexus.”

This short video by SABMiller does a good job explaining why nexus thinking is so important for the planning, development and implementation of sustainability initiatives, building on a recent report on sustainability and nexus thinking published in collaboration with the WWF and German GIZ:

For those of you who have heard the name SAB Miller before but are having trouble recalling details, this is what Wikipedia has to say:

SABMiller plc (LSESAB, JSE: SAB) is a British multinational brewing and beverage company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the world’s second-largest brewing company measured by revenues (after Anheuser-Busch InBev) and is also a major bottler of Coca-Cola.[3][4] Its brands include Grolsch, Miller Genuine Draft, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Pilsner Urquell.[3] It has operations in 75 countries across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America and sells around 21 billion litres of lager per year.[3]

Those figures really show how important it is to have SAB Miller invest in sustainability solutions rather than be complacent and cash in on natural resources, creating more problems. In the end, nexus thinking and sustainability initiatives are in the best (business) interest of every corporation eager to prosper and grow – especially in the food and beverage industry. That said, as laudable its environmental initiatives, SAB Miller’s credentials as a good tax paying ‘corporate citizen’ have been put into question, as reported by the Guardian back in 2010. Hopefully such practices have been stopped by now.

Picture by sludgegulper, Flickr creative commons

4 thoughts on “Nexus Thinking: Water, Food and Energy Belong Together

  1. ‘Nexus thinking’ is neater than Garrett Hardin’s ‘Ecolacy’ but he would be pleased with the trend towards considering the ecological interactions between cause and effect. He said there are NO SIDE EFFECTS: everything we do affects everything else to a more or less degree and consciousness if this will help stop us making foolish decisions like allowing biofuels to compete with crops at all – so unnecessary. People in New Zealand treat waste water with water weeds to clean it then make fuel out of the weeds harvested. James Cook U in Qld has an algal biosequestration system that takes CO2 from the effluent air from power stations MBD Energy realises the technology for power stations on the east Coast of Australia. The cycles between water, food and fuel go on and on, endlessly productive.
    Have a look at seawater greenhouses that desalinate seawater using solar and horticultural crops to grow pesticide free food and potable water. Sahara Forest project is one of their headlines.

    • Thanks for the comment, Sue – and thanks for pointing out initiatives doing a great deal to put nexus thinking into practice. It is one of the big unfortunates of mainstream media that it tends to report the bad stuff (i.e. things going wrong) and much less frequently positive news. In New Zealand, many people are complaining about the country not living up to its environmental branding; they will be grateful to learn about any initiative putting the clean, green message into action.

  2. Sue – thank you from us too. It’s always interesting and useful to hear about other ‘nexus thinking’ that is taking place around the world. Partnership, collaboration and sharing best practice are key to coming up with the most effective solutions to the resource challenge.

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