Sustainable Brewing – Intro

It’s the conversation we never wanted to have. The climate change issue is as contoured as a coastline, fraught with opinion masquerading as fact and agents on leashes held by financial interests. Conspiracy theorists and doomsday propagandists don’t help, either. Worried? Have a beer. Your beer is mostly water, which is necessary for life and one of the most complex parts of urban infrastructure. What if that water was threatened, or ceased to exist? No more beer. Sadface.

This is the first part in what may be a neverending series of articles about beer and sustainability. Right now, I’ll lay out the mission of these articles, which consists of questions intended to cover as much territory as possible. I’ll plumb the experiences of small and large breweries that engage in everything from donation programs for environmental nonprofits to installing solar panels, water treatment facilities, and other impact reduction components.

Some of the questions I seek to answer are: What are some different ways that breweries contribute to environmental groups? How do breweries pollute, and what can be done to mitigate that pollution? What are the tangible effects of eco-friendly business practices? How do breweries that implement sustainable practices balance that extra effort in their businesses? How can breweries prioritize and incorporate efficient, low-waste, environmentally conscious procedures?

Two main waste outputs from breweries are carbon dioxide and water. At some breweries, it takes ten gallons of water to make one gallon of beer! Heating and cooling require the input of fuel, be it electric, gas, or other forms of energy. Packaging, especially glass, is heavy to transport and generally only used once.

Small breweries, often managed by a slim crew, may not be able to even consider anything beyond minimal water reclamation and wastewater pH treatment, though the latter is becoming a common requirement in urban areas.

There are oodles of ways breweries choose to mitigate their environmental impact. This series will also use them as positive examples of responsible business planning.

As you may have noticed, the language used to define the word “sustainable” in this context revolves around the environment. There are other things – like financial decisions and management practices – any business needs to do to be sustainable in the sense of continuing operation. Often, those things are intertwined with environmental effects. For example, larger breweries typically reuse water as much as possible before it leaves the brewery because it saves money. It just makes sense. Investment in solar arrays not only saves money in the long term, but is a physical marketing tool.

There are programs in Oregon that help breweries achieve greener solutions: the Salmon-Safe certification; the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative; and PakTech’s recycling program for its six-pack carriers, to name a few.

Each brewery possesses its own potential to showcase sustainable methods. Because they are once again plentiful in this country, and are, as they always were, community meeting places, a certain amount of responsibility and accountability should come along with their operation. This isn’t to vilify anyone (unless they’re dumping excess waste; those people suck), but to raise the overall awareness and increase access to options for anybody who happens to read this.

If you know of sources or resources that would be useful to this series, please leave a comment!

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