Sustainability once felt like a New Age concept, one uttered by the impractical with little appreciation for the logistical challenges facing businesses. Those days are coming to an end as brewers acknowledge the impacts of climate change on their businesses are serious and require substantial efforts to combat.
“I kind of see skepticism at the really small level, we’re talking 500 or 1,000 barrels a year,” says John Stier, formerly Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs for Anheuser-Busch and former Sustainability Mentor at the Brewers Association. “I don’t see it with those who are brewing over 100,000 barrels a year. They kind of get it already. They’re watching the bigger guys and seeing what they’re doing and sustainability is part of that. They need to keep an eye on it and become more efficient or else they can’t remain profitable.”
The Financial Incentive
Even if your brewery and its staff have not historically been connected to the environment and engaged in sustainability efforts, the business pitch alone should get your attention. There’s a clear bottom dollar impact on the decisions you make in your brewery and discovering the scope of potential savings can help ease any resistance to change. Helping your brewery become more profitable and efficient are perfectly laudable goals that can help promote sustainable practices.
“Much of the public relations surrounding environmental and sustainable practices are simply good business practices from a cost perspective and sometimes a quality perspective,” says Chris Lohring, founder of Notch Brewing in Massachusetts. “We don’t give spent grain to farmers because we feel good about it but because we don’t want to pay for its removal. We don’t reuse water because we want to be “green” but because we save money. There are dozens of these types of examples in every brewery. Wrapping these stories in a feel good PR message is fine, as it is good practice, but it’s not the primary motivator for doing so.”
Staying Local Is Also Sustainable
Freight and transit are two of the larger environmental impacts the brewing industry has and finding ways to minimize the distance your beer travels is at the heart of sustainability.
Lohring also points to the environmental benefits of focusing on your home market. “Local is something I’ve tried to encourage for over twenty years of being in the beer industry, mainly because the money will stay in the local economy,” he says, pointing to labor as an ingredient in beer. “But additionally, if you are a brewery promoting a green or sustainable message, sending your beer across the country is probably the worst thing you could do. And as a consumer, buying beer from across the globe, or from San Diego if you live in Boston, is not in line with the ethos or economics of sustainability.”
Sustainability Made Simple
Experts recommend starting with small steps in order to change your corporate culture regarding sustainability efforts. You can reduce utility costs by saving energy on more energy efficient light bulbs, cut back on water usage in small ways, or avoid landfill disposal fees by reducing waste. Adding stream segregated recycling collection units throughout your brewery and actively asking employees to consider the waste they generate in the facility also helps raise awareness. Also learning where you can sidestream brewery waste, beyond sending spent grain to a local farm, helps. Each of these items directly impact your bottom line and help you improve and grow your business.
It’s also important to track your brewery’s progress on any programs you implement and to do that you need to start with a baseline. How much water is used, how much trash is produced, how often do you receive and send shipments? The Brewers Association provides a benchmarking tool that can help you track your efforts. Another helpful step is to undertake a waste audit to get a better sense of where you should focus efforts.