When it comes to sustainability, one issue rises above all others: water usage. Without water, there is no beer. And as any brewer knows, water doesn’t just comprise more than 90-percent of the final product, it’s also used in nearly every step of production. Cold water cools down wort, hot water cleans and sanitizes equipment, water rinses floors and bottles and cans after filling. All the way down to employee hand washing and rinsing glasses in the tasting room, water is ubiquitous.
With the impacts of adverse weather and climate events on the rise, having an understanding of your water footprint is key to managing this critical resource in the future.
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Water Before It Gets To The Brewery
Despite having grown to nearly 10,000 around the country, craft brewers actually only account for a fraction of the environmental impact of large brewing companies and are nothing compared to the farms producing the raw ingredients used in brewing. More than 90-percent of the environmental footprint of brewing occurs in the agricultural supply chain and farming by far has the biggest impact on usage. According to research from the Water Footprint Network, an international group promoting sustainable, equitable, and efficient water use, the water footprint of the amount of malted barley required to produce beer is nearly 300 liters of water per liter of beer. By contrast, the water footprint of the entire production brewing process is six to eight liters of water per liter of beer. At the largest breweries, including MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, that number is closer to three to one.
In light of the substantial impact of farming barley, hops, and other raw ingredients necessary for brewing, it’s important that brewers of every size look outside of their own breweries to really create sustainable change. Having conversations with your suppliers about their own water use can help address the issue.
Big Brewers Get It
“From a manufacturing perspective, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors are far more green than small brewers if you look at the resources required to produce a barrel of beer,” says Chris Lohring, owner of Notch Brewing in Massachusetts. This perspective is shared by sustainability focused brewery experts across the country.
MolsonCoors has long focused on the practice of water footprinting, which involves studying the watersheds of its major breweries and hundreds of agricultural suppliers. Using indicators from the World Resources Institute, MolsonCoors determined whether the regions housing its breweries were water scarce or water stressed and then studied the stability and quality of the sources of the water. The company also looked to determine the impact of climate change, population growth, agricultural demands, industry growth, and other factors to create a watershed strategy for each location. The actions led to practices designed to save hundreds of millions of gallons of water a year.
Craft Brewers And Water
For breweries interested in engaging in a sustainability program, consider starting small and reaching out to other breweries leading in the field. Information sharing, as happens throughout the brewing industry, is key. Sharing best practices can help motivate other breweries to step up their engagement while also reducing the learning curve and barriers to entry. On the high end, smaller breweries can consider anaerobic digestors, advanced waste water treatment protocols, and energy efficient brewhouse systems.
In Vermont, the Long Trail Brewing Company manages to use one-third the amount of water as the industry standard by employing a heat recovery system that converts steam into water for reuse. This process saves 1100 gallons of propane per month and eliminates the release of smoky water vapor from the facility.
Even small fixes can go a long way. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services suggests that breweries consider undertaking a benchmark review of their water usage and then find ways to reduce consumption from there. Small efforts can result in substantial savings, such as using a broom or squeegee to clean up spills, using hoses with high-pressure low-flow nozzles, and even checking on leaking faucets and toilets, which can result in hundreds of gallons of water lost.