Five Ways Craft Brewers are Creating Beers With a Lighter Environmental Footprint

By Rachel Bell
Posted in The Field Guide to Drinking in America, on April 19, 2016

Like many of the products we love, alcohol production isn’t always easy on the environment. Between the water consumption, energy needed to produce the product, and transportation, it takes a lot of resources to get our favorite beer into the glass. It may have all started with the Bottle Bill, a law that varies by state (check out The Field Guide to Drinking in America for info by state), but brewers have come a long way in sustainability efforts since 1971.

Luckily, many craft beer producers have recognized the need to focus on sustainability. On this Earth Day (April 22) we’re going to take a look at some of the efforts in beer production that are helping to bring you adult beverages with a low carbon footprint. Climate change is impacting the production of the raw materials needed to create these beverages, driving companies to get even more involved in green practices.

Beer is a major economic driver in many parts of the US. With over 2,800 breweries in operation, beer has an estimated $245M+ impact on our economy. But, if not created with some attention to the earth, it can take a toll on natural resources such as water, and can be an energy hog. Plus, what happens to all that spent grain?

Climate Declaration for Brewers PosterThe Brewer’s Association has created several guides for brewers that focus on reducing water waste, solid waste, and energy usage. Craft brewers lead the brewing industry with conservation and creative approaches, leaving a softer footprint on the planet. Dozens of breweries have signed the Climate Declaration, committing to take action on climate change going beyond the industry standard that encourages consumers to recycle. In addition, many craft brewers, like Craft Brew Alliance, publish annual sustainability reports that set corporate sustainability goals and highlight their energy usage from previous years.

Here are five ways brewers are able to lessen their environmental load:

1. Recycling and Landfill Diversion — Many brewers want to reduce the amount of waste they’re sending to the landfill. Portland, Oregon’s Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) has an ambitious goal to send zero waste to the landfill. By sending their spent grain to a regional dairy farm and taking advantage of programs to compost their non-grain waste, HUB diverted 98.6% of their waste from the landfill in 2014.

2. Water Conservation — From Odell Brewing’s program that captures steam from the brewing process to provide heat, to Craft Brew Alliance’s move to a dry bottling process at their Washington state production facility, brewers are working hard to reduce, capture, and reuse every drop they can in their brewing process.

New Belgium Brewery Tour3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions — Wastewater treatment often creates methane, but
two breweries have found a way to capture that methane and use it to generate electricity. Both New Belgium Brewing and Smuttynose use this process. For New Belgium, that captured methane provides 15% of the brewery’s electricity.

4. Water Conservation — Aspen Brewing is making every drop of water count twice in their brewing process. Cold water is used to chill the hot wort (beer before it’s fermented). In the process, the cold water heats up to about 170℉. This hot water is then stored in an insulated tank and used in the next brew.

5. Renewable Energy — More than a dozen breweries across the country have been able to use 100% renewable energy to generate the electricity they need to operate. The next time you take a sip of a beer from Allagash Brewery, Brewery Vivant, or Deschutes Brewery (to name a handful), take a moment to reflect on how that beer is brought to you in part by the power of the sun. Large brewers like Miller/Coors and Heineken are adding solar arrays so there may come a day when all the beer we drink involves solar power!

Odells Brewing DIPAIn addition to providing innovative ways to make delicious craft beer, these brewers
are working hard to ensure every pint they serve is doing its part to make the planet a great place to live and drink! When you belly up to the bar this Earth Day, celebrate with a sustainable craft beer.