More and more, craft brewing customers want their beers to be made in a sustainable, climate friendly way. Here's how to be sustainable in craft brewing.
Drinking green beer.
Brewing, by nature, creates a large ecological footprint, starting from the facility itself, to the heating and fermentation process, all the way through packaging beer. But, craft brewers can reduce their carbon footprint and make sustainability synonymous with their brand. With the craft brewing industry poised to take over a projected 20% of global beer sales by 2025, sustainable choices can make a large impact towards mitigating climate change. That makes for a lot of happy customers.
Several media outlets and craft brewing professionals have noted the trend towards sustainably focused consumers. Foodable Network observes that consumers are more eco-friendly than ever before and that eco-friendly customers enjoy sustainable and organic products.
Similarly, a recent report by DSM found that craft beer drinkers’ desire sustainable beer, making sustainability one of the five main trends of craft brewing. The report states that, “Half our respondents believe that craft beer is more sustainable; and that a product advertised as being sustainable was more attractive. This is borne out by the fact that ‘ethical/environmentally friendly’ was by far the number one claim by new craft beer launches last year.”
And craft brewers everywhere are taking notice. Sierra Nevada’s sustainability manager, Cheri Chastain, knows the importance of consumers’ sustainable preferences in craft brewing. She says that…“A more educated and aware consumer is certainly a driver. Consumers in general are starting to ask more questions about all of the products they consume: how they were made and what is in them and beer is no exception to this.”
There is more than one reason for the trend of sustainability in craft brewing. Sustainability can delight customers but also save money in the day to day operations of a craft brewery. Rob Day, of Boston’s Lord Hobo Brewing, says that, “There is a self-selecting nature to the type of person who wants to open a craft brewery. Generally speaking, they care about their communities and the people living in them, which does extend to the world when it comes to climate… When you are getting started, you need to save and scratch, and sometimes sustainable practices can save money.”
Sierra Nevada, a large brewery with facilities in Asheville, North Carolina and Chico, California has successfully made sustainability part of their brand. They have done this by making creative, sustainable choices in every part of the beer making and selling process.
First, Sierra Nevada starts with running their breweries on clean energy. They get energy from thousands of solar panels at each facility, and also utilize microturbines. The microturbines are run on natural gas in Chico and biogas sourced from a wastewater treatment plant in Asheville. When lights are not in use, or sunlight floods the brewery, lights are vigilantly kept off as an energy saving strategy.
Even the heating process is sustainable at Sierra Nevada. Their website describes how they do not let any heat go to waste: “Heat recovery units on boilers, microturbines, and brew kettles capture energy that otherwise would be lost, and devices on large motors and pumps conserve energy by automatically adjusting to demand.” Also, to cut down the cost of utility bills, Sierra Nevada fuels their boilers in a unique way: "Biogas produced from the wastewater treatment process is recovered and then used to fuel our boilers at both breweries.” They also recover CO2 from fermentation and reuse it within the brewery.
Sierra Nevada is a Platinum Zero Waste facility, with only 0.2% of their waste going to landfills. Their used barley and hops, after being finished with the brewing, goes to nearby dairy famrs to feed cows. Used water goes to an “on-site wastewater treatment facilities take effluent water from each brewery and pre-treat it before sending it to the municipal treatment facility. Any other organic waste gets composted for garden fertilizer. When it is time for the beer to be packaged and shipped, it gets put in recycled glass bottles and distributed on trucks that run on vegetable oil biodiesel.
Another brewery in Asheville, Highland Brewing Company, is also making waves for their sustainability practices. Like Sierra Nevada, Highland uses old grain, yeast and hops as cow feed. They also make use of solar panels for electricity. However, at Highland, on sunny days the solar panels create more energy then the brewery can use, making their facility the United States’ 3rd largest solar panel installation in the craft brewing industry.
To reduce energy use, Highland changed out lightbulbs from halogen to T-5 fluorescent, which reduced light energy usage by 50%. The facility itself is an old warehouse that got repurposed, instead of building a new space from scratch. Highland saves extra packaging material and puts it to use in the next batch of finished beer.
Highland Brewing's heating system is very energy efficient. They employ an energy efficient boiler and, according to their website, “Reduce energy usage with a heat exchanger, which reclaims heat from boiled wort and transfers it to hot water for next batch.” After brewing, their automated keg line saves water by reusing it. And Highland regularly performs energy audits of their steam boilers.
The Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers has some suggestions on how to make a craft brewery sustainable. They offer brewers sustainability manuals on several parts of the craft brewing process that can be improved, such as energy, solid waste, water/ wastewater and design. These manuals give guidance, a checklist for brewers to complete and spreadsheet tools.
While these manuals give advice on how craft breweries can become more sustainable, the Association also offers members a benchmarking system where they can input relevant data in real time on a mobile app to monitor ongoing monthly sustainability performance, and how it measures up to target usage and cost value. The app also lets users compare their performance with other similar sized breweries to gauge how sustainable they really are.
At Induction Food Systems, we believe sustainability starts with how beers are brewed. Our induction electric heating system has 600% more precise control, uses 3-5 times less energy while working 24 times faster to reach target temperatures, all while leaving an 80% smaller footprint.