Home > Brewery Tours, Off the Beaten Beer Path > It’s Hip to be “Green” in the Brewery Scene

It’s Hip to be “Green” in the Brewery Scene

Craft breweries have become one of the “greenest” industries on earth.  Think about it – water, malt, hops, yeast – there’s nothing in beer that can’t be reused.  For many breweries, environmental consciousness is an integral part of their culture, something they strive to incorporate in every aspect of their operations on a daily basis.

So with Earth Day just around the corner, I thought this would be a great opportunity to highlight some of our favorite “green” breweries and discover what innovative, hi-tech, and not so hi-tech methods they’re using to preserve our earth and the environment for future generations.

  • Anderson Valley (Booneville, CA) boasts that they produce solar-powered beer.  Indeed, up to 40% of the brewery’s energy usage comes from solar power that’s generated by their  $860,000 photovoltaic system.  This state-of-the-art system is one of the largest privately-owned photovoltaic systems north of the San Francisco Bay area and in the western hemisphere.
  • New Belgium is passionate about eco-friendly benefits of bicycle transportation.

    New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, CO) is “alternatively empowered”, which means all of their business decisions revolve around ethical, environmental, and community contributions and welfare.  New Belgium sets the bar when it comes to a sustainable business culture.  So much so, that the brewery has a full time Sustainability Director and Sustainability Specialist. The Brewery starts by using sustainable energy as an alternative to burning millions of pounds of coal; they have an onsite water process treatment plant where excess water is cleaned and returned to their local watershed; they’ve implemented a comprehensive company-wide waste recycling program;  and list goes on and on.   Of course, New Belgium is best known for their love of bicycles (hence, Fat Tire).  As a tribute to their passion, the brewery hosts the annual Tour de Fat bike festival, which promotes biking as a viable form of transportation.  Read more about New Belgium’s efforts to reduce their carbon footprint in their Sustainability Blog. 

    Wind power is a clean sustainable energy of choice for many craft breweries.

  • Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, NY) In 2003, Brooklyn Brewery became the first New York City company to power their operations 100% with energy produced by a wind farm.  Wind power doesn’t come cheap in NYC – the brewery continues to pay top rate for this sustainable energy source.
  • The Alaskan Brewing Company (Juneau, AK) has invested in some of the most advanced sustainable technologies you’ll find anywhere.  In 1998, Alaskan Brewing became the first US brewery to install and operate a CO2 recovery system, which captures and allows for reuse of CO2 in their brewing process.  This system prevents  783,000 pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere each year. That equates to emissions from over 40,000 gallons of gasoline annually.  The brewery also uses a self-sustaining grain dryer to stabilize their grain for transport and distribution to Seattle farmers and ranchers.  In 2008, they were the first craft brewery to install a Belgian-based mash filter press, which allows them to use less water, malt and hops while maintaining top quality in their beer.

    Alaskan Brewing Company uses a state-of-the-art mash filter press to save water, malt, hops and energy.

    This also translates to less energy required to dry the spent grain.  The amount of diesel fuel saved annually as a result of this process could send a truck around the world 50 times.  What’s more, Alaskan Brewing supports the sustainability of the Pacific ocean and its coastlines by donating 1% of their sales to the non-profit Clean Oceans Depend on Everyone (CODE).

  • The Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI) is the country’s oldest certified organic brewery, and the first to use 100% organic hops.  The Brewery currently works with organic farmers to revive the once thriving Wisconsin hop industry.  Lakefront also donates approximately 15,000 pounds per week of spent grain to the nonprofit Growing Power so that it can be converted into supersoil for growing organic food.  Furthermore, five percent of the energy used in their brewing operations comes from wind power.  They also use a heat exchanger to transfer the heat energy from the hot wort to boil their beer, they use compact fluorescent bulbs to produce 95% of their light, and they operate a totally “green” facility with company-wide recycling.
  • Full Sail Brewing Company (Hood River, OR) takes responsibility for their beautiful Hood River surroundings, and they’ve been recognized time and again for their sustainability efforts.  The Brewery reduces water use and power consumption by compressing their work week into four 10-hour shifts.  Full Sail also uses energy-efficient lighting and air compressors to reduce energy use by 400,000 kWh annually; and compared to most brewing operations, they use only half the amount of water to produce their beer, which reduces water consumption by 3.1 million gallons each year.  Full Sail also conducts extensive recycling; the cows benefit from thousands of tons of their spent grain and yeast solids each year; they use wind power to energize their operations; and they are avid supporters of hundreds of local fundraising events and non-profit organizations.
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, OH) is focused on the Triple Bottom Line – to achieve a sustainable, yet profitable business.  The Brewery hosts the annual Burning River Fest to support Burning River Foundation – a nonprofit that focuses on the practice and education of ecological conservation and environmental protection. Great Lakes also partners with a “pint size” farm to grow organic produce for its brew pub.  They alsorecycle waste material; they compost the brewery’s restaurant food; they reuse low-fill beer (unsellable bottles) for soaps, marinades, and other gourmet brewpub fare; they use solar panels to heat their beer; spent grain is given to local farmers for use as feed; and their beer delivery truck and “Fatty Wagon” shuttle bus run on straight vegetable oil – a renewable fuel made from their reclaimed and filtered restaurant oil.

    Breweries like Great Lakes partner with local farms to grow organic produce to use in their brew pubs.

  • Sierra Nevada Brewery (Chico, CA) operates one of the largest private solar arrays in the US, producing over 1.4 MW of AC power. They also completed one of the largest (1.2 MW) fuel cell installations in the US.  These two energy sources provide clean power onsite, and supply the Brewery with the majority of its electrical needs.

    Sierra Nevada operates one of the largest solar power arrays in the US for their electrical needs.

    Sierra Nevada also  recycles up to 99.6% of their solid waste using a first-of-its-kind HotRot composting system; they recycle vapor heat from the boil kettle to use in preheating the process water;  a CO2 recovery system captures gas for reuse in bottling and dispensing; they’ve reduced their water usage by half, and they have an inhouse water purification system for water reuse; they reward employees who ride bikes to work; and they continuously tweak and modify their operations to reduce, or to capture and reuse spent energy.

The extent that these brewers go to to run sustainable operations may not be the norm among craft breweries, but the commitment to sustainability is most definitely common practice throughout the industry.  In true brewer style, they are the renegades, the trend setters, the non-conformists, the hippies of the business world.  Its not about glory, recognition or press releases.  Its about doing what’s best for our planet.  This planet that produces the water, the grain, the hops, and yes, even the yeast that allows them to create wonderful, all natural, sustainable beer.  So the next time you pop open a beer from your favorite craft brewery, just remember, a healthy planet yields healthy ingredients for better beer.  If that doesn’t make you want to hug a tree, then you’re probably not from this planet.

Happy Earth Day!  Cheers Beers!

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  1. April 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Great post for Earth Day. And what’s really great is that quite a few of these beers are rather tasty. (I haven’t had them all.)

    • April 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks! This was a fun one to research and write about. Certainly makes me feel better about paying a little more for good craft beer!

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