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3p Weekend: Top 10 Sustainable U.S. Breweries

By Mary Mazzoni
New Belgium Brewing

Love sustainable beer? Join Triple Pundit as we take our 'Stories & Beer' series on the road! It all starts in Philadelphia on Sept. 30, where we'll discuss the B Corp movement and "measuring positive impact." Then, it's on to New York City on Oct. 2 for a chat about sustainable fashion and water conservation. We'll wrap things up with a happy hour event at SXSW Eco in Austin on Oct. 7. Hope to see you there! 

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

It's Friday afternoon, and you're bound to be feeling a little thirsty. To help you choose a sustainable sip for tonight's happy hour, this week we're rounding up 10 of the most sustainable breweries in the U.S. So, grab a cold one, and rest easy knowing it had little to no impact on our planet.

1. New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium is widely regarded as one of the most sustainable breweries in the nation. Taking a holistic approach to sustainability, the Fort Collins, Colorado-based brewery uses science-based metrics to track environmental performance.


New Belgium is currently diverting 99.9 percent of its waste from landfills and has reduced water use per barrel of beer to 3.5:1 (averages range from 6:1 to 10:1). The company is also a partner in the Brewers for Clean Water campaign and has donated close to half a million dollars to restore local waterways. The brewery also takes a "high-involvement" approach when it comes to its community, hosting events and give-back initiatives to help support the people that love its beer. The fact that it's 100 percent employee-owned doesn't hurt either.

2. Yards Brewing Co.

This Philadelphia favorite has thought of everything when it comes to sustainability: It is Pennsylvania's first 100 percent wind-powered brewery; its cardboard packaging is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative; it sends its spent grain to farmers to use as livestock feed; and it collects and reuses about 2 million gallons of water in the brewery each year.


In its tasting room, Yards composts all food scraps and uses recycled materials wherever possible (the bar top, for example, was made from recycled bowling lanes). The company also sponsors an event on Earth Day each year to raise awareness of the declining honeybee population. We'll toast to that!

3. Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn Brewery was the first New York City company to use 100 percent wind-generated electricity. It also recycles all paper, plastic and bottles from the brewery and sends spent grain to local farms to be used as animal feed.


The company also recycles its hot water and serves samples out of compostable cups at its tasting room in Williamsburg. For more on sustainability at Brooklyn Brewery, check out our exclusive video interview with COO Eric Ottaway.

4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

During its growth from craft to mainstream, Sierra Nevada kept sustainability front and center. Back in 2013, the company revealed it saved  more than $5 million by diverting nearly 100 percent of its waste.


Its brewery in Chico, California also houses one of the largest privately-owned solar arrays in the country. More than 10,000 panels produce 2 megawatts of power -- enough to meet 20 percent of the brewery's energy needs. The brewery sources another 20 percent of its power from on-site hydrogen fuel cells. It also captures CO2 released during fermentation and recycles it back into the brewery, as well as sending spent grain to local farms.

5. Full Sail Brewing

Full Sail Brewing had sustainability in mind from the start: When it began making beer back in 1987, its brewhouses were housed in old buildings that had fallen into disuse, with the idea to repurpose them rather than tearing them down.


Located along the Columbia River in scenic Hood River, Oregon, it's no wonder Full Sail was so focused on sustainability -- and the brewery kept it going for more than 20 years. While average breweries consume 6 to 8 gallons of water per gallon of beer produced, Full Sail reduced its consumption to 2.5 gallons. The brewery is also modified for efficiency to cut energy use, and it sends surplus grains to local farms rather than tossing them in the landfill. For more information on sustainability at Full Sail, check out the video below.

6. Lakefront Brewery

Based in the proud beer town of Milwaukee, Lakefront Brewery was the first in the U.S. to produce a certified organic beer. It also sends its spent mash to  Growing Power, where it's composted and turned into organic fertilizer. Lakefront also reclaims heat energy from the brewing process to reuse for the next batch of beer, along with a number of other sustainability initiatives.

7. Brewery Vivant

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Brewery Vivant was the first LEED-certified microbrewery in the U.S. It has also issued sustainability reports each year since its founding and packages its brews in cans made from recycled aluminum.


With a focus on locally-sourced ingredients, 75 percent of Vivant's purchases are from Michigan, with 90 percent coming from within 250 miles of the brewery. The company also donated 11 percent of its profits to charitable causes last year, and pays all workers a living wage.

8. Alaskan Brewing Co.

Sustainability can be a big challenge in the frigid environment of Juneau, Alaska, but Alaskan Brewing Co. makes it work. In 1998, it became the first craft brewery in the U.S. to install and operate a CO2 reclamation system. The system captures and cleans carbon dioxide (a natural byproduct of the brewing process) and uses it to package the beer and purge oxygen from holding tanks -- saving money and preventing more than 1 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.


As you may have noticed from this list, many breweries recycle their grains through local farms. But with no livestock in Juneau, Alaskan Brewing had to devise another solution. The company has been drying and shipping its grain to farmers in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years, but it took things a step further in 2012 by developing a first-of-its-kind steam boiler fueled entirely by spent grain. With the new system, the brewery expects to reduce overall oil use by more than 65 percent.

9. Bison Organic Beers

“By choosing a six-pack of organic beer a week, you will convert about 1,700 to 1,800 square feet from conventional to organic agriculture,” brewmaster Dan Del Grande of Bison Organic Beers told Triple Pundit in 2012.


If that's not enough reason to have a sip, the Berkeley, California-based brewery also committed to responsibly sourced packaging and 100 percent non-GMO ingredients.

10. Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Great Lakes Brewing Co. focuses on sustainable sourcing and innovation. At its Pint Size Farm in Bath, Ohio, the company organically farms 16,000 square feet of vegetables, herbs and flowers for use in its brewpub. What it can't produce on the farm comes from local, environmentally responsible farmers and vendors.


Great Lakes also sends spent grain back to farmers for use as livestock feed; some is also recovered to produce the cracked barley beer bread and pretzels served at its brewpub. The brewpub also features 12 solar thermal panels and an energy-efficient boiler that heats water for brewing and restaurant use.

Image credit: New Belgium Brewing via Facebook

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands, Earth911 and the Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni