Budweiser clarifies '100% renewable electricity' claim on UK website after complaint to ASA

Budweiser has had to clarify a claim on its website that its beer is brewed using "100% renewable" energy after a complaint.

The complaint was "informally resolved" by the advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), meaning the brewer agreed to substantiate the statement and detail fossil fuel use, and the issue was not made public.

The homepage of Budweiser's UK website now contains an asterisk beside its "Budweiser is brewed with 100% renewable electricity" statement.

At the bottom of the page, a clarification breaks down the electricity it uses and the renewable electricity it produces.

"The actual electricity used to brew Budweiser is not from 100% renewable sources," the explanation at the foot of the page has said since March.

It continues: "But 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 adds that Budweiser's two sources of renewable energy are an on-site wind turbine directly connected to its brewery in Magor, Wales; and a 20-year agreement for the operation of two solar panel farms, located in Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire, which the company says generate more electricity than its breweries require.

What did the complaint argue?

Earlier this year, before the complaint was assessed by the ASA, the website had simply featured the "100% renewable sources" claim and not given a breakdown of its energy use and production.

It was argued by the complainant, Irish senator Lynn Boylan, that the text was misleading and couldn't be substantiated.

Anything connected to the National Grid will be powered by electricity from a range 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 varies from day to day depending on weather conditions.

It is not possible for electricity created from fossil fuels to be filtered out of the National Grid supply before it enters a particular home or business.

Businesses which say they use "100% renewable electricity" often use a complex trading system whereby certificates are purchased for renewable energy produced somewhere in Europe.

This electricity does not work its way into the UK fuel mix and National Grid.

What is a REGO?

Budweiser, owned by multinational drink company AB InBev, was able to make the "100% renewable" claim as it buys certificates known as renewable energy guarantees of origin (REGO).

The certificates pay for renewable energy produced elsewhere and are designed to encourage renewable energy production.

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

Energy regulator Ofgem has been critical of REGOs.

In a report for a parliamentary debate in 2018, it said: "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 launched in 2021 into how energy retailers market 'green' electricity tariffs to consumers, a process which 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."

But 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".