Sustainable Beer Movement Hops Into Overdrive

Beer is big business. So it only makes sense for beer brewers of all shapes and sizes to embrace sustainable best practices in order to eliminate waste from their supply chains and boost the bottom line. Large entities like MillerCoors are releasing detailed plans on how they intend to reach their sustainability goals while small craft brewers and start-ups aim to build their brands on the back of a 100% sustainable brewing process.


The second largest beer brewer in America, MillerCoors, recently published its 2011 Sustainable Development report, “Success the Right Way,” which outlines how the company intends to achieve its sustainability goals and ensure a secure future. Within the pages of the report, MillerCoors discloses 2010 performance data and measurements, provides a stakeholder materiality analysis, as well as input from third party groups and an external assuror. The report includes a report card on its progress toward meeting its 2015 goals, as well as detailed performance data using parent company SABMiller plc’s Sustainability Assessment Matrix, a five-step measurement scale. Here are some of the results:

• Approached, and in some instances met, the company’s 2015 water efficiency ratio goal of 3.5 barrels of water per barrel of beer at three breweries

• Began a pilot study to assess water risks related to barley growing in the Snake River Valley region of Idaho

• Conducted a Water Source Vulnerability Assessment project to complete baseline assessments of watershed risks at each brewery

• Achieved zero waste to landfill at three of its eight major breweries

• Implemented a series of energy-saving and operating-efficiency initiatives and allocated capital funding to equipment upgrades and engineering retrofits

• Reduced packaging materials by nearly 6.5 million tons – primarily by reducing the thickness of cardboard used in 24-pack cases of 12 oz. cans across all brands

A company the size of MillerCoors can obviously make a positive impact on the environment just by reducing water consumption alone. But what about start-up breweries? How can they make a difference? If you’re the New Chicago Brewing Company, you transform 93,500 square foot plant into a zero-waste facility. Here’s more from Chicago Reader:

In addition to the brewery, the 93,500-square-foot building houses 312 Aquaponics (which pairs a tilapia farm with hydroponic growing beds for edible plants including greens and herbs), the Living Well Brewery (which makes kombucha tea), and Green Submarine Pickles. Greenhouses, a living wall, and a shared kitchen are in the works.

The idea is to turn the whole compound into a zero-waste facility. The heat for brewing New Chicago’s beer will come from an anaerobic digester, which uses bacteria to convert organic waste—produced in the building and by neighboring food businesses—to biogas (and sludge, which becomes fertilizer). The gas is then cleaned, compressed, and run through a high-pressure turbine (repurposed from a military fighter jet engine) to create electricity and 850-degree steam. The brewery, in turn, will produce spent grains—which can be used to feed the tilapia, grow mushrooms, and feed the digester—and carbon dioxide—which will be piped to the plants in the building to make them grow faster.

Since New Chicago’s brewing strategy is completely self-contained, maybe this is a way forward for other micro-brewers like Longmont’s Oskar Blues Brewery who recently expressed “a great deal of frustration in watching hops prices fluctuate by $21 per pound overnight and in practically being forced to buy Canadian barley because of a relatively complex Colorado market for the grain”, according to Daily Camera.

What do you think? Do more brewers need to adopt the sustainable  practices of the ones mentioned above?

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