Top Sustainability Practices for Breweries and Distilleries

2 beer mugs full of beer in front of a sunset

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Protecting the environment and conserving resources have been topics of increasing interest and importance in the craft beverage industry lately. Although these considerations may take a little extra time and effort for business owners and staff, implementing eco-friendly practices has many long-term benefits, such as attracting like-minded consumers, saving money and contributing to a healthier planet.

  Some sustainability practices appeal to craft beverage producers more than others because of their ease of setting up, affordability and projected impact. Review these ideas and examples with your team to discuss a new and improved approach in the new year and to determine whether they might complement your future brewing or distilling practices.

The Importance of Craft Beverage Sustainability

  Unfortunately, the traditional processes of brewing and distillery are not inherently eco-friendly. It takes significant water, energy and other resources to make just a single batch of beer or spirits. Yet there are ways for producers to get creative and offset their costs while being responsible community businesses, too. This concept is critical because the continual production of high-quality beverages depends upon reliable waste elimination and efficient resource utilization.

  In addition to simply feeling good about the beverage production process and attracting consumers who care about the environment, sustainability can have unexpected effects in a craft beverage setting. Producers can increase profits and protect supply chain ingredients by conserving resources and reducing waste. Sustainability measures can contribute to a safer work environment if fewer potential toxins are in workspaces. Additionally, breweries and distilleries can minimize their usage of natural resources, add value to the local community and partner with environmentally conscious groups to create a greater culture in the community around sustainability.

Ideas for Your Brewery or Distillery

  Following the examples of other craft beverage producers and brainstorming your own ideas, there are many ways to take an eco-friendly turn in production for the new year. For example, producers can upgrade their packaging systems to use biodegradable six-pack rings for cans. They can prioritize using local ingredients, reuse waste water and inquire into the costs of solar panels. Waste reduction projects, water-saving technologies and land stewardship programs can promote sustainability in a distillery or brewery. A couple of ideas that incorporate sustainability, philanthropy and community involvement are donating spent grain and hops to feed local livestock and participating in a tree-planting effort.

  Brewers and distillers work with various vendors and suppliers in the course of regular business. Therefore, one idea is to vet all companies about their internal sustainability guidelines to address the broader impacts of packaging, transportation, water and emissions. Distilleries can focus on sourcing local ingredients by purchasing barley and rye close to home, partnering with local farms to send spent grain to feed cattle on nearby farms and installing closed water systems that recirculate water to operate stills. Including a page dedicated to sustainability on your brewery or distillery website can help consumers learn more about the eco-friendly efforts you are working on and connect with your brand on a more personal level based on shared interests.

  Here are some additional ideas to inspire your internal conversations about becoming a more sustainable producer:

•    Train staff how to read the water meter and about water usage

•    Monitor groundwater with annual water quality testing

•    Check for plumbing leaks regularly

•    Install a closed-loop cooling system for the fermenter

•    Use low-flow toilets and auto-flush sensors in taproom bathrooms

•    Use a nitrogen generator to clear hoses and lines instead of carbon dioxide

•    Utilize low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, flooring, and furniture

•    Use LED lighting throughout the brewery or distillery

•    Install energy-efficient windows, doors and skylights

•    Install insulation jackets on hot water pipes and water heaters

•    Recycle as many materials as possible during production

•    Offer employees incentives for biking, walking, or using public transportation to work

Examples of Sustainability Practices

  One example of a producer prioritizing sustainability is New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado. This prominent producer was the first brewery to join 1% for the Planet and commit a percentage of annual sales to environmental causes. It also became the first carbon-neutral-certified major brewer and is a Certified B Corporation, a designation that holds organizations to high environmental and social standards. Another notable Colorado brewery is Mountain Tap Brewery, which has worked to lower its carbon footprint by buying malt and hops from local growers so that ingredients don’t have to travel as far to reach them.

  Meanwhile, Beerburg in Austin, Texas, is committed to responsible sourcing ingredients through partnerships and land conservation. Beerburg’s beers feature ingredients foraged from its own land. It also has committed to creating a zero liquid and solid waste facility that provides its own water and energy. Some breweries, such as Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau, Alaska, have used CO2 recovery programs to address the issue of carbon dioxide produced during the production processes. To promote the oceans and waterways around Alaska, this brewery donates a portion of its Icy Bay IPA to water and coastline cleanup efforts across the markets it serves.

  Moving across the country, many breweries and distilleries in Virginia have added eco-friendly practices into their operations. For example, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery sources its water onsite, contributes to river cleanup efforts and collaborates with organizations to build wells in other countries with water supply issues. At Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Distillery, a large percentage of electrical usage comes from solar energy, and excess solar power generated goes back to the local grid to support other homes and businesses.

  The Appalachian Gap Distillery’s sustainability efforts extend to utilizing a solar array and donating liquid stillage and waste grains for cattle feed on local farms. Located in Middlebury, Vermont, Appalachian Gap became America’s first climate-neutral distillery and also promotes sustainability with its insulation, windows, doors, heaters and water conservation process. Other producers that serve as sustainability models include Bozeman Spirits Distillery in Montana, which sources water from the local snowmelt, and Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing in Westfield, New York. Five & 20 is the state’s first combination brewery/winery/distillery. Industry leaders have recognized the producer for combining stillage, spent grains and wash water byproducts with wood chips to create a protein source to feed various types of fish. There’s also Frey Ranch Farmers & Distillers in Fallon, Nevada, which practices a 100 percent farm-to-glass model. Frey Ranch sustainably grows 100 percent of its whiskey grains onsite and offers behind-the-scenes tours for visitors to learn how whiskey is created from these homegrown grains.

Sustainability Resources for Producers

  If your brewery or distillery is interested in trying out some new sustainability practices, numerous companies, government agencies and consultants are available to help. For example, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection is committed to assisting statewide breweries with their interests in reducing pollution, promoting energy efficiency, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing waste and using less toxic cleaning products. The agency offers a free and voluntary Connecticut/New England Environmentally Sustainable Craft Beverage Program that extends beyond just Connecticut and involves partnerships throughout New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Local government resources are also available to learn about preventing pollution, applying for small business energy saving programs and free assistance for reducing waste in a brewery or brewpub.

  The Brewers Association, a nationwide nonprofit trade organization, is a source for craft beer research and service grants to help breweries improve their sustainable growth. Specific sustainability priorities for its industry grants include the following:

•    Understand best practices and payback in hop and barley production, which enhance soil sequestration of greenhouse gases

•    Innovate packaging materials, including reduction of plastic, materials collection or recycling and reusable containers that reduce greenhouse gases

•    Benchmark malt house water and energy utility intensity rates

•    Develop new materials and compare the quality outcomes of hops packaged and stored in recyclable alternatives to Mylar foils over time

•    Study climate resiliency of North American hop and barley production, especially as crops broaden and diversify into minor growing regions and breeding efforts that address climate adaptation

•    Research environmentally safe alternatives to current clean-in-place chemicals commonly used in the brewing industry

•    Identify areas of efficiency improvements for small-scale carbon dioxide recovery and direct air capture

  Meanwhile, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States is an Energy Star partner and offers member-spearheaded environmental sustainability efforts through a taskforce focused on advocacy and policy reform. This organization’s current strategies include land stewardship, responsible water use, energy reduction, circular material syncing, waste reduction and evaluating transport burdens.

For further assistance with “going green” as a brewery or distillery, you may want to look into these resources to make a connection or find inspiration:

•    First Key, consultants to the brewing and beverage industry

•    Green Brewery Project, a nonprofit sustainability consulting venture

•    Lueders Consulting, expertise for the brewing industry

•    Cornell Sustainability Consultants, sustainability-focused student group

•    Heather Paulsen Consulting, sustainable business consulting

•    Campden BRI, brewing environmental services

•    Pure Water Brewing Alliance, dedicated to brewing beer with recycled water

•    Brew Recruit, brewing and beverage manufacturing consulting services

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