It’s Easy Being Green: Breweries Embrace Eco-Friendly Ethics

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This article contains a correction.

Several breweries are employing environmentally sound practices in everything from ingredients to distribution. The common denominator among these companies is a set of corporate values that make sustainability the highest priority. And many of these breweries have significantly modified their entire manufacturing process to produce a beer you can enjoy guilt free.

These breweries take a “big-picture” approach that makes many of them leaders in corporate environmental ethics. New Belgium Brewing, for example, meets 15 percent* of its energy needs by putting its water waste in enclosed pools with anaerobic bacteria. The bacteria feed off the nutrient-rich water to produce methane gas, which is converted into energy for the factory. The remaining 85 percent of the energy they consume comes from renewable sources.

New Belgium Brewing also conducts Life Cycle Assessments of its beers to determine the material and energy flows at each stage in the brewing process. “It’s a tool to improve not just the sustainability of our company, but of our industry, too,” say founders Kim and Jeff. A six-pack of their Fat Tire label produces 35 percent fewer emissions than the industry average.

Brooklyn Brewery, another leading green beer producer, obtains 100 percent of its energy from wind. The brewery pays the Con Edison power company for the 285,000 kilowatt-hoursit uses off the grid annually to be replaced with energy from an upstate wind farm. Each year, Brooklyn Brewery’s commitment to clean energy saves the atmosphere from 335,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 1,500 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 500 pounds of nitrogen oxide that would otherwise be emitted.

These beers start with nearby ingredients. Middlebury, VT-based Wolaver’s Organic Ales’ support for local organic farming led to their Farmer’s Series beers, which are each named after the farmer who grew the ingredients used. It’s unique to know the name of the farmer who grew the ingredients for your beverage, but restoring the connection between the land, grower, crop, and consumer is a long-standing principle of the local food movement.

The packaging and delivery of these beverages are also opportunities to expand sustainable practices. New Belgium reduced the packaging materials in each 12 pack by cutting 150 tons from their yearly cardboard usage. This alone prevented about 174 metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. even produces its own biofuel to power their delivery trucks.

For many of these breweries, their environmental ideology goes beyond the product itself to define the corporate culture. Belgium Brewing gives bicycles to its employees after they’ve been employed for a year, and keeps a fleet of loaners for communal use to encourage cleaner methods of transportation. It also pays a bike courier to pick up bottles from local bars and restaurants because the town doesn’t provide commercial recycling. And Brooklyn Brewers pays New Jersey farmers to pick up their nutrient-rich spent grain, which makes excellent livestock feed.

Hopefully eco-friendly brewing practices will become the industry standard, but you can make that day come sooner by supporting companies who are striving to be models of environmental excellence.

* Correction, May 20, 2009: This article incorrectly stated that New Belgium Brewing met 30 percent of its energy needs by putting its water waste in enclosed pools with anaerobic bacteria. The acutal amount is 15 percent.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series