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A Sustainability Story: Kona Brewing Company

The Can Van | Friday June 1st, 2012 | 1 Comment

Mattson Davis, president of Kona Brewing

The following interview is part of our annual “green beer” series for 2012. To read more interviews and articles visit the main page here.

What’s your name and the name of your brewery?

Mattison Davis, President
Kona Brewing Company

TriplePundit: How long have you been in the business?

Mattison Davis: Kona Brewing Company was started in the spring of 1994 by father and son team Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa.  Originally from Oregon, they saw a need to create fresh, locally made brews with the same spirit and passion for quality that existed in the Pacific Northwest. Because of their great love for the Big Island, and the Kona Coast in particular, they wanted to build a business that would benefit the island and not harm the pristine environment.

I moved from Portland, Oregon, to join Kona Brewing Company in the spring of 1997. Raised in the Northwest and having spent much of my life by water, I jumped at the opportunity to live and work in Hawaii and help grow craft beer awareness in the Islands. I began as General Manager, was promoted to Managing Partner and I’m now president of Kona Brewing.

3p: Where are you located?

MD: Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii

3p: What volume of beer do you produce and where do you distribute?

MD: In 1997, we produced 3,000 barrels of beer. Since 1996, Kona Brewing has been Hawaii’s #1 craft brewery, and the largest brewery in Hawaii. We were also the 13th largest US craft brewery (out of 1,700), based on 2010 sales figures. We produced 165,000 barrels in 2011.

We distribute Kona to 31 US states total and Japan. Pennsylvania, South New Jersey, Delaware and Alabama are our newest markets, all added to our distribution in the past 4 months.

3p: What makes your brewery sustainable?

MD: As well as brewing closest to markets on the mainland, we have a number of sustainability efforts incorporated into brewing processes in Hawaii. Our sustainability coordinator champions these processes, including our 2012 Hawaii Green Business Award, presented last month by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie.

We now offer our Longboard Island Lager in cans as of this past March. Cans are more sustainable for a number of reasons. Since they are lighter to ship than glass bottles, they reduce fuel usage. Cans also begin life as a green receptacle, with the average beer can containing 40% recycled aluminum, compared to about 20% to 30% recycled glass in bottles. After imbibing, people are more likely to recycle cans than bottles, which adds to the greener life cycle of the can.

Our biggest investment in infrastructure has been to use solar panels at our headquarters in Kailua-Kona. The 990 panels on our roof offset roughly 60 percent of the electricity consumption for the pub and brewery from 880 260-watt solar modules.  The brew house is illuminated by 8 Solatubes and recaptures heat in the brewing process instead of heating tanks with electric power. Over the next 30 years, we expect the system to offset 16,830 barrels of oil, and prevent around 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere over 30 years.

In 2011, we won Surfrider’s John Kelly environmental award which recognizes those who have made the greatest contributions towards protecting or enhancing Oahu’s coastal community and environment. In 2011, we were also recognized by Forbes as one of the greenest restaurants in America.

3p: What’s your biggest sustainability challenge?

MD: Educating consumers on why it’s not sustainable to brew beer in Hawaii that’s destined for other markets. Many people don’t realize how expensive manufacturing processes are in Hawaii and that shipping of raw materials to Hawaii and then shipping the finished product back to the mainland is not fair to the environment, nor is it financially sustainable. Rather than brewing all beer in Hawaii, we led the way in making it more sustainable by brewing closer to markets and consumers are starting to realize this is the best way to keep up with demand.

3p: What’s your favorite brew?

MD: I have always loved our Longboard Island Lager as a truly sessionable brew that is so refreshing on a hot day, like everyday here in Hawaii.

3p: Any new sustainability projects in the pipeline that have you excited?

MD: Two things:
We will be expanding our garden on the makai side [ocean side] of the pub so that it’s tiered and we can grow more produce and herbs for the restaurant.

The future for us also largely depends on water, and water is an incredibly precious resource in Hawaii. Not only will we focus on reducing water use, we’ll also re-use water that is typically discharged and collect greywater to irrigate our bigger gardens.

3p: Forget finances- what’s your brewery pipe dream?

MD: Someday I hope to see Kona as not only a global brand but also see that the lifestyle of Liquid Aloha has made an impact on the entire world. We know we are so lucky to live in Hawaii, but I’d like to see that essence communicated all over the world, to see people giving back, sharing because it’s the right thing to do, and enjoying the relationships and experiences that share this bounty back.


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  • Aussie longboard lover

    If only they would distribute in Australia