How the Brewers Association is helping breweries reduce their carbon footprint
- Brewing beer requires a significant amount of resources, including water, and generates waste.
- The Brewers Association offers breweries sustainability tools to improve the process all around.
- Breweries that use the tools have reduced their carbon emissions and water consumption, and saved money.
- This article is part of a series called “Partners for a Sustainable Future”, describing innovative alliances that are driving real progress in sustainability.
Protecting the environment is a high priority for many independent beer brewers. Yet it’s no secret that brewing beer uses up significant resources and generates waste.
It may take up to seven barrels of water to make a barrel of beer. Beer also requires a significant amount of heat during the brewing and refrigeration process shortly after its manufacture, contributing to wasted energy – not to mention the fact that the beer making process produces a lot of wastewater and leftover cereals.
Over the past six years, however, brewers have taken advantage of the sustainability tools created by the Brewers Association, which represents approximately 5,400 small independent member brewers, or about half of the approximately 8,764 craft breweries in the United States.
Brewers who have used the tool for four or five years have consistently reduced their carbon emissions and water consumption and also saved money, Chuck Skypeck, head of brewing technical projects, told Insider. BA. Breweries that submitted five consecutive years of data showed a steady improvement in natural resource efficiency of 1% to 2% per year, he said.
Horse & Dragon Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado is one of the breweries working with BA to become more sustainable using a benchmarking tool that BA has developed to help breweries measure their energy use and water, their carbon emissions and the costs of disposing of wastewater and used grain.
“We’re trying to reduce this in a modest way,” Carol Cochran, co-owner of Horse & Dragon and member of BA’s sustainability subcommittee, told Insider. Simply measuring usage helps breweries use less energy and resources, she said.
Knowing your water consumption per barrel of beer compared to a similarly sized brewery gives owners a starting point for change. “If you’re way above it, you can dig in and find out why or check out other breweries your size and region,” she said.
A sustainability challenge for small breweries
For smaller breweries like Horse & Dragon, which will produce less than 3,000 barrels of beer this year, it can be difficult to achieve the level of sustainability that larger, more efficient breweries can achieve.
For example, not all breweries can install large solar panels to offset energy use, Skypeck said. Small breweries like Horse & Dragon instead focus on using LEDs or installing a more efficient compressor to reduce energy consumption.
“About 7,500 of the BA members brew tiny amounts of beer on a low budget,” Cochran said. “We don’t have the bandwidth to do the type of research the BA funds.”
BA membership also gives brewers like Cochran access to lessons learned from larger brewers such as New Belgium Brewing, also in Fort Collins, which brews over 800,000 barrels of beer each year. New Belgium is an industry leader in sustainability, claiming its Fat Tire beer is the the only beer certified carbon neutral.
Large brewers can capture the emissions and reuse them to carbonate beer or during the canning or bottling process, but there are not yet systems designed for small-scale capture, and the technology available would require small brewers use too much energy, Skypeck mentioned.
“We’ve learned that every brewery has individual challenges, and if every brewer can start measuring what they’re doing, they can identify where to make incremental changes,” Skypeck said.
He admitted that some of the BA’s recommendations are straightforward, like putting the lights in the brewery on a timer to avoid using energy when no one is around or finding a local farm to use the gain used from. the brewery for composting and livestock feed. But for brewers like Horse & Dragon, these little incremental changes add up over time.
Embrace water conservation
With the help of the BA, Horse & Dragon reduced their water use by 36.46%, Cochran said.
“Water is our main concern right now, although it is the cheapest, simply because of the shortages that we see and hear about in the West,” Cochran said. “We are constantly looking for affordable ways to conserve, reuse and strengthen the health of our watershed.”
The western United States is experiencing a historic drought, and in August, the United States government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, affecting water supplies to Nevada and Arizona. The city of Fort Collins is even under a shows lack of water.
Water is the main ingredient in beer, accounting for up to 95% of its content. Additionally, water is used throughout the brewing process for cleaning, cooling and packaging.
Rather than just sending water down the drain, BA teaches breweries to collect clean water and find other uses for it.
When Cochran and her husband Tim were building the brewery, they consulted with a larger member of BA and were asked to purchase an oversized hot liquor tank to capture and reuse all the water used in the cooling process. This water passes through a heat exchanger to the hot liquor tank and is ready to use when brewing the next batch or cleaning the tanks, she said. The brewery also collects clean water from a steam drip hose on the hot liquor tank and uses it to water the trees on the property.
Skypeck also wants brewers to take into account the quality of the water they use. The Fort Collins watershed has experienced two major wildfires, and when runoff reaches burnt areas, it can affect water quality, he said.
Horse & Dragon is a member of BreEau, 15 Fort Collins breweries focused on local water issues, including teaching the local community how to protect the local watershed.
Reduce energy consumption beyond LED lights
In addition to installing LED lights, Horse & Dragon has offset 100% of its energy consumption since 2016 by purchasing wind power from Power of Arcadia. The brewery has also reduced its energy footprint by committing to use locally sourced malt and barley, eliminating the need to truck supplies from other regions.
Yet despite these efforts, the brewery’s output increased, as did its energy consumption. “Our average monthly energy use has increased by 10%, and we are looking for other ways to reduce it for both environmental and financial bottom line – it’s our most expensive of our utilities,” Cochran said.
The goal is for all of its beers to be made with 100% local ingredients, but Cochran admitted it’s a tough financial math. While some sustainability efforts, such as using less water or generating less waste, save the brewery money, other efforts – such as purchasing malt and barley from a local producer – cost 50-60% more than bulk grain from large suppliers.
“Unless every brewer is forced to do the same, it’s a tough financial decision to make,” Cochran said. “We always sell our product at a similar price to other breweries that don’t do these things.”
Most brewers are reluctant to promote their sustainability efforts to consumers. “I think you run the risk of opening yourself up to legitimate criticism if you brag about the types of incremental changes you’ve made,” Cochran said.
Make no mistake, Skypeck said, these little incremental changes are big. “The most sustainable way to consume a beer is in a glass that you are going to use and wash and reuse,” he said. In fact, he said, over 65% of BA members don’t pack their beer; they just sell beer on site in their bar.