The iconic American beer with the cherry-red label is going green. Since 2017, Budweiser has ditched its gas-powered delivery trucks in favor of Teslas. It has begun converting all of its U.S. brewing operations to 100 percent renewable electricity, as its bottles and cans now proudly advertise. And Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, has also announced that all of its 400 beer brands will be renewable-powered by 2025.
Now, the largest beer brewer in the world is taking its green messaging to the Super Bowl. Of the eight commercials Anheuser-Busch plans to air on Sunday, three are environmentally themed. The most explicit is its Budweiser commercial, in which Clydesdale horses run alongside twisting wind turbines to the tune of Bob Dylan’s protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Anheuser-Busch’s planned commercial for Stella Artois, “Change Up the Usual,” also has a green tinge. It stars Jeff Bridges, reprising his role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, and Sarah Jessica Parker, reprising her role from Sex and the City, as they eschew their favored drinks—White Russian and Cosmopolitan, respectively—in favor of the Belgian pilsner. The ad directs viewers to a website that says Bridges and Parker “are changing up their usual drinks of choice for a Stella Artois to help provide water access to people in need.” As an Anheuser-Busch marketing executive told Adweek, “The whole campaign is a rallying cry to the American public to join us in the cause of providing clean drinking water to the people who need it.”
Lastly, the company’s ad for Michelob Ultra Pure Gold features a montage of lush green nature shots. It’s a place “so pure you can feel it,” the commercial says—to be enjoyed with beer “so pure you can taste it.” The tagline declares that this is “beer in its organic form.”
Anheuser-Busch apparently doesn’t consider any of these ads to be political. In fact, a company spokesperson told Business Insider that they’re part of a concerted effort by the company to avoid politics after its pro-immigration Super Bowl ad in 2017. This year, the spokesperson said, “We will only talk about or engage in topics that are authentic to our brands or company.”
But this is a political issue, whether Anheuser-Busch admits or not. And that makes it all the more notable given the company’s support for two powerful political organizations that work to block meaningful action on climate change.
Environmental issues are indeed authentic topics for Anheuser-Busch. The largest beer brewer in the world needs an abundant supply of clean water, and stable growing conditions for barley and hops. All three are severely threatened by climate change. Increased extreme temperatures and drought, for example, are expected to lead to a decrease in yields of barley anywhere from 3 to 17 percent. This could cause global beer prices to rise, and consumption to decline by up to 16 percent worldwide. Climate change also disrupts the water cycle, which is expected to have a huge impact on drinking water supplies.
These projections aren’t good for Anheuser-Busch’s business, so the company has a financial interest in taking on this worthy cause. It’s also wise marketing, as research has shown that consumers are willing to pay around $1.30 more per six-pack of beer that they consider sustainably-produced. But while the company seeks to convince consumers that it’s environmentally responsible, behind the scenes it has associated with two groups that are enemies of the climate movement: The American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC, and the Chamber of Commerce.
ALEC is a shadowy, influential conservative group that develops model legislation promoting “principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism.” Its climate denialism and rejection of climate regulation has caused even major oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, to renounce membership. The anti-environment, anti-climate positions of the Chamber of Commerce has also caused a number of businesses to leave the organization.
Both organizations keep their membership lists private, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Anheuser-Busch’s associations. The company is listed as an active member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and has been recognized as a distinguished member by several local chapters. Anheuser-Busch representatives were also on the list of attendees at ALEC’s 2017 annual member meeting, and more than 70 groups asked the company to drop its ALEC membership last year after a white supremacist spoke at the annual conference. Anheuser-Busch did not respond to that demand, nor did it respond to my request to confirm its memberships in these groups.
Anheuser-Busch frames its commitment to renewable energy and clean water as being for the good of the planet, not the company’s bottom line. “Climate change is the most pressing issue confronting our planet,” Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito said in 2017. “We at AB InBev are committed to doing our part.” But if that’s true, then the planet could use fewer virtue-signaling Super Bowl ads and more honesty about the political causes that Budweiser drinkers are unwittingly supporting.