Budweiser thinks its customers are gullible fools

For its Super Bowl commercial this year, Anheuser-Busch has opted for a little green virtue signaling. The punch line of the ad “Wind never felt so good” is “now brewed with wind power for a better tomorrow.” I say punch line intentionally, because the claim is a joke. It’s the latest entry in the corporate 100% renewable PR misdirection campaign.  Indeed, the lie underpinning this ad is so brazen it should qualify as false advertising.

The lie here is fundamental: pretending that Anheuser-Busch, or any of the other companies like Google or Apple making these false claims, are actually using only renewable energy to power their operations. They are not. Every Anheuser-Busch bottling plant plugs into the electricity grid like everyone else. In 2017, the US electricity grid derived just 6.3% of total generation from wind power. Solar, the other trendy source, generated just 1.3%. Unless Anheuser-Busch has unplugged its bottling plants from the grid and just has a direct line to the closest wind farm, they are not brewing their beer with wind power.

But how do we know they aren’t doing that? Well, because wind power is intermittent, it only blows some of the time. An Anheuser-Busch bottling plant, on the other hand, needs constant power. A modern manufacturing business cannot be run with the lights turning off and on all day. So Anheuser-Busch relies on the grid, where power generation is dominated by coal and natural gas.

So how can Anheuser-Busch and other companies get away with this lie? Well, they enter agreements to “purchase” electricity from a company owning a wind farm. They then claim that payoff as offset for the real electricity they are using from the coal plant down the street. It’s an accounting gimmick, a little flimflam that provides cover for false claims of 100% renewable power usage.

The core of the corporate 100% renewable myth is that these companies think their customers are ignorant and gullible. They count on customers not realizing that electricity is a “just in time” product, virtually every electron generated is used immediately. Storage is difficult and impossibly expensive, and long distance transportation (e.g. from rural wind farms to population centers) is costly and inefficient.  In order for the lights to come on whenever you flick the switch, you must have a stable, constant source of power. Wind and solar do not provide that fundamental service.

Now perhaps we shouldn’t blame Anheuser-Busch for getting in on this game. A company with a collapsing market share is liable to grasp at any straw on its way down. But maybe, just maybe, lying to your customers about your business practices isn’t the wisest way to go.

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