Sustainability and Today's Brewery

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The roof of Odell Brewing in Fort Collin's Colorado.

Brewing is an extremely wasteful process. According to a study by UVM, it takes anywhere from 3-7 pints of water to make one pint of beer. Waste in brewing contributes to excessively large energy & water bills and a harsh impact on the environment. Recognizing this fact, nonprofits like the Iowa Waste Reduction Center help breweries improve their sustainability. Federal and state governments provide funding options for sustainable equipment. New technology is constantly being created that can improve environmental stewardship and lower costs. 

Investing in sustainability involves up-front costs that have massive long term financial impacts. These investments can decrease costs, increase demand, and even increase profit margins in some cases. Not to mention the environmental impact of using less water, energy, and gas.

In the most recent Brewers Association Sustainability Benchmarking Report, less than 1% of craft breweries participated in benchmarking. This is likely because benchmarking requires a person to manually enter data from water and energy bills. The long-term benefits of benchmarking are apparent when looking at the results from the 5-year study. Even with just a small time commitment once a month, average savings for 0-1,000 bbls was $4,346.

Savings reported by BA Benchmarking participants

Making sustainability efforts public can increase demand and customers’ price threshold. In a survey out of Indiana University, 59% of respondents said they would pay an average of 7.4 cents more per ounce which equates to $1.18 per pint and a jaw dropping $5.33 per 6 pack. If you’re not sure if your customers would be attracted to sustainability, refer to this drinker profile template for a guide to researching & mapping out your customers’ key influences.

Iowa Waste Reduction Center is a nonprofit that offers environmental assistance for a multitude of industries. Joe Bolick, Director at IWRC says brewing is inherently wasteful, this is why it fits perfectly with their mission. They created the Iowa Green Brewery Certification which is a free program dedicated to helping and recognizing brewers for environmental stewardship. They currently only evaluate brewers in Iowa due to the need for in person equipment check-ups, but are looking to expand the program to other states via licensing agreements. They’re also happy to talk with anyone who has questions about brewing sustainability. 

Iowa Waste Reduction Center Director Joe Bolick presents Iowa City Big Grove Director of Operations David Moore with the Certifcate of Achievement Platinum level on Friday March 13, 2020 at Big Grove Brewery.

According to Bolick, the easiest and cheapest way to reduce energy use is installing LED light bulbs. They produce less heat and more light at a lower cost. They’re 85% more efficient than conventional lighting, while up front cost can be as low as $26, depending on the size of the brewery.  This is especially important in refrigeration, because less energy is wasted compensating for the heat of the bulbs. One way to reduce HVAC costs along with energy use is installing a heat capture system which reuses the heat from the brewing process during the winter or sends it outside in the summer. 

Another way to improve sustainability is by reducing the weight of the packaging. One way to do this is by switching out stainless steel kegs for reusable lightweight kegs, like FiberLite kegs. These will reduce the cost of transporting kegs by an average of $50 for every pallet shipped, and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas used by everyone who transports the keg.

Federal and state governments also offer expertise and funding for sustainability projects. Here in Colorado, the Department of Health and Environment performs free, on-site assessments at breweries. Every state is different, so it’s important to do a Google search on what your state offers. On the federal level, USDA grants are available to fund sustainability focused projects. Brewers Association just began accepting proposals on March 3rd for their Research & Service Grants, proposals will be accepted until May 31, 2021.

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