Beer isn’t generally the first product you think of when you think of eco-friendly, but the impact of beer on the environment is more than you may think. The production of your favourite brew is the lowest contributor to the environmental footprint in the cycle, instead think about the amount of glass and aluminum needed for production, or the energy cost of refrigeration, or most of all the carbon footprint of transportation (another reason why drinking at your local brewery is a positive impact, no transportation cost).
With all these hidden impacts, there is good news. There is a surprising amount of beer producers focusing on environmental, and sustainable business practices. In fact, the amount of breweries that have taken up some sort of initiative is astonishing, almost to the point where its become industry standard. But there have been some leaders along the way.
One of the prime examples of a brewery taking matters into their own hands is Deschutes, who have been working with the Deschutes River Conservancy every year since 2012 which has resulted in a restoration of one billion gallons of water into the Deschutes River. The also purchase renewable energy and recycle their entire spent grains back into the local farming community.
Sierra Nevada is another prime example of a brewery that is taking a hard stance on sustainable brewing practices. Their North Carolina facility was the first production brewery in the U.S. to be certified LEED® Platinum, and their California operation is powered by 10,751 panels covering enough roof space to span 3.5 football fields.
It’s not just up to the breweries either. Manufacturers have started lending eco-friendly alternatives like The E6PR™ (Eco Six Pack Ring), the first eco-friendly six pack ring made from by-product waste and other compostable materials, designed to replace the plastic ring.
In addition, some of the biggest producers of beer globally have started making changes:
- Danish brewer Carlsberg last year made waves by announcing the elimination of plastic rings with their six packs. Instead the beer is held together by a dab of industrial strength glue. The company estimates that the switch will reduce plastic waste by more than 1,200 metric tons a year, or the equivalent of 60 million plastic bags.
- By the end of 2019, Corona has committed to removing plastic packaging from Canadian shelves and replacing it with a new compostable cardboard packaging. They’ve also promised to clean one square metre of Canadian shoreline for every specially marked case of Corona sold in Canada, as well as every bucket of Corona sold in participating bars and restaurants, with the goal of cleaning 850,000 square metres of beach this summer.
- By 2025, all Budweiser around the world will be brewed with 100% renewable electricity.
With all this effort, how then can you as a craft beer consumer make sure you’re doing your part? There are a few things to keep in mind:
- Buy local when possible. Purchasing from your local breweries means less transportation both in terms of the production and shipping of the product.
- Use recyclable bottles like growlers, this cuts down on the need for canning/bottling and energy use for storage.
- Try to avoid beer with plastic packaging, or plastic rings. If you do purchase beer with plastic rings, be sure to properly dispose of it.
- Do your own homework when it comes to the breweries or beer you consume. Are they utilizing local ingredients, or supporting local farms through recycling programs? How do they mitigate waste water? Do they use sustainable energy or purchase carbon credits?
- Encourage your favourite brewers to be more sustainable. The craft beer community is very open, and most brewers see themselves as an integral part of their local community. A conversation about their sustainability practices may go better than you think.
Sustainable brewing isn’t just possible, it’s already a reality. What we need to do now is ensure it becomes more widespread, and becomes an industry standard rather than a “nice to have”.