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HEINEKEN has just announced that 100% of its beer sold in the Netherlands has been brewed using green energy. Here, Jan Kempers, Program Manager Sustainable Development at HEINEKEN Netherlands Supply, explains how the world’s most international brewer is decarbonising its supply chain.

Jan Kempers

What are your key sustainability goals at HEINEKEN Netherlands Supply?

Very early in our sustainability programme, we realised that, as a global exporter, we needed to concentrate on the reduction of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane. My dream is to have a completely carbon-neutral supply chain. Our supply chain starts with the cultivation of the ingredients, and it ends with the transportation [and recycling] of our products.

We have already made progress by participating in the Zero Emission Services (ZES) shipping project, which runs zero-emission barges powered by modular batteries on the Netherlands’ inland waterways.

ZES allows us to save approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually per vessel; so, with six vessels, the savings would be around 6,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year in the Netherlands. And the cost of distribution has not changed significantly as a result of this.

The principle of switching over from fossil fuels to electricity in logistics has been very interesting. We realised that electric batteries will be the more reliable and financially effective solution in the next 10 years.

We are also partnering with businesses specialising in electric trucks to shuttle containers between our brewery and the inland container terminal at Alphen aan den Rijn. The distance between our brewery and this terminal is only 14 kilometres and our preference is to use electricity to transport our containers on this route.

The next step will, of course, be carbon-neutral transport to other continents. We export around 70,000 containers each year through the Port of Rotterdam.

What about the breweries? How are you aligning your operations with the energy transition?

In the brewery, we also have significant electrification in progress. In the coming years, we will introduce heat pumps, eBoilers or other small-scale electric appliances.

We are developing a method to recover the heat that our cooling systems produce in order to save approximately 40% of the thermal energy that we use in the brewery. This method will reuse the heat that we create by cooling our beer fermentations to supply warm water to our packaging hall, for washing the bottles or pasteurising the beer.

And then of course, we invest in renewable sources of electricity generation, such as wind power and solar panels. The transition from fossil fuels to green electricity is of strategic importance to our company, as it allows us to build a backbone of capabilities that we can use for our carbon neutral future.

Do you think it will benefit the Heineken brand to be associated with these kinds of initiatives?

Of course, we expect it to contribute to our brand value. What we did with ZES, for example, was to develop a solution for our supply chain ‒ but it is a solution that can also be used in wider society. And that is a very nice message to bring to your consumers. So, we help to improve society and support the energy transition by developing a solution for our beer.

What are some of the lessons that you've learned in trying to embed sustainability at Heineken?

The solution is always a result of connecting people and bringing experts together. When we collaborate, we can create the most fantastic solutions and systems. In most cases, you work with a group of people who want to be innovative and create new solutions. I try to make the communication between the partners as effective as possible. To do that, you have to overcome the cultural differences between people and companies and change the mindset.

What would you say makes a successful changemaker?

Well, you have to be a believer, right? So you have to be convinced that you're working for a good purpose and that it is absolutely necessary to bring sustainability forward. Of course, you will encounter all kinds of difficulties and obstacles, but that's all part of being somebody who wants to change the world.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of passionate people driving sustainability and change?

Our time is ticking away, so we need all the great brains of the world to come together and try to solve the challenges we are facing. So, please, ask yourself “What will be my role and what will be my contribution?”