How Sustainable Breweries are Mainstreaming the Green Revolution

A Clean Future releases sustainable brewing reportIf 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.

Sustainable brewing

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.

Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are two other names that readily come to mind when the topic turns to green beer.

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.

[Image: Beer by stevendepolo, flickr]

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.




Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

2 responses

  1. Brewers were “green” before green was anything other than a color.
    Go back to Colonial America, when most farms had breweries as an efficient way to move their grains to market.
    Most breweries have been giving their spent grains to nearby farms to use as cattle feed for years. Because brewing uses so much water and so much energy to change the temperature of water, green brewing is simply good business. It’s the same reason why many breweries use solar power.
    I’ve been writing about green issues related to adult beverages for for years. The only news here is that something approaching a mainstream source noticed what many of us have watched for a long time.

    1. Well, that analogy sorta falls flat. Weren’t farmers green in Colonial America? Weren’t people composting and buying local? Brewers and breweries are super future oriented because they are open source, hip to the the New Economy, and all about building community and artisanship. More importantly, they are a mobilized, cohesive reactionary force countering the typical and rather overbearing domestic beer paradigm. :)

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