If there is one thing that can unite people across the political spectrum, beer is probably second only to puppies. That’s why a new report from the New York-based think tank, A Clean Future, caught our eye. The report is called Leading Sustainability Practices in the Brewing Industry, and on one level, it simply provides a thorough rundown of sustainable practices that have been mainstreamed into the brewing industry, from small craft breweries to global giants like AB-InBev (formerly Anheuser-Busch).
Just going by a brief summary of the report, though, what’s really at play here is a blueprint for finding common ground upon which the vast majority of the beer-drinking public can agree, in terms of protecting the environment and preserving our ability to, well, brew more beer for one thing.
We should note that there is currently a charge for downloading the full report, but in a press release from A Clean Future, the whole thing is neatly summed up in one sentence: “The four basic ingredients in beer (water, yeast, malt, hops) directly tie breweries to the environment.”
The report basically makes the point that breweries are as closely tied to the health of the Earth as farmers, fishers, and anyone else who makes a living directly off the land. It includes an analysis of water use, greenhouse gas emissions, energy, waste management and community relations, and concludes that attending to these factors benefits the bottom line directly while also “elevating brand reputation in the minds of consumers.”
The report is especially timely now, as a huge portion of the midwestern U.S. has been caught in the grip of a historic drought, which some have likened to Hurricane Sandy in terms of its impact on local economies.
Many paths to a greener beer
Some of the conservation strategies detailed in the report cut across many industries. These include taking advantage of solar power and other alternative forms of energy, as well as conserving water and upgrading to more energy efficient equipment.
Sustainable building standards can also come into play. One great example is Brewery Vivant in Michigan, which opened in 2010 as the first LEED-certified (silver) microbrewery in the U.S.
Sustainable brewing is also beginning to intersect with the emerging green chemistry trend, which seeks natural alternatives to petrochemicals and other toxic or hazardous substances.
AB-InBev, for example, has partnered with the company Blue Marble Bio to reclaim brewery waste and convert it into a group of common substances called carboxylic acids, which would otherwise be derived from petroleum. Carboxylic acids are widely used to manufacture soaps, shaving cream and other products.
Social drinking and social consensus
It’s no small coincidence that the sustainable brewing trend is also intersecting with another powerful force in American culture, organized sports. Football, baseball and other beer-friendly sports are not only adopting more sustainable practices, they are showcasing sustainable technologies and strategies to millions of fans in a relaxed, enjoyable environment.
Between the brewing industry and the sports industry, sustainability is taking on a distinctly mainstream American flavor.
That won’t necessarily mean that Republican leadership in Congress is suddenly ready to support federal clean energy investments, the wind power tax credit, the Navy’s biofuel program and everything else they’ve been railing against for the past several years, but those kinds of positions will be harder to justify to a constituency that is becoming quite comfortable with the idea of enjoying a more sustainable brew to go with their favorite, more sustainable sport.
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