According to the Boulder, Colo.,-based Brewers Association (BA), craft brewer sales rose 5 percent by volume in 2017, reaching 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume.
As craft beer and brewing remain prevalent in the beverage market, the impact it has on the environment is just as significant.
Among the tools, practices and resources, the BA outlines important sustainability guidelines for craft brewers and craft beer enthusiasts. Maintaining a healthy balance between stewardship, social enrichment and economic vitality is key to the present and future success of craft brewing, the company says.
Since its founding in 1991, New Belgium Brewing Co. (NBB), Fort Collins, Colo., has embedded sustainability practices into its DNA. “As makers of a water-based agricultural product, brewers need our rivers and our barley and hop crops to continue to thrive in order to stay in business,” says Dana Villeneuve, NBB’s environmental, sustainability, and policy specialist. “We therefore have a close connection to the natural world around us, and it’s in our best interests to be responsible stewards of those resources we depend on.”
“Our purpose as an organization is to manifest our love and talent by crafting our customers’ favorite brands and proving that business can be a force for good,” she adds.
With sustainability playing an important role in brewery operations, craft brewers are paying attention to the small and large ways it can reduce its environmental footprint.
NBB utilizes a handful of different materiality lenses to decide where to focus its environmental impact efforts, Villeneuve says. “One of those is our annual greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting, which we carry out using internationally accepted protocol and beverage sector-specific guidance. We co-created the beverage sector guidance alongside our peers at the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable.
“Our GHG accounting helps us understand where the majority of our emissions are coming from, and which levers to pull in order to reduce our impact,” she continues. “For example, since the glass bottle is our largest source of emissions, we have focused a great deal of effort on glass over the years, including lightweighting our bottles and founding the Glass Recycling Coalition to improve glass recycling rates across the country.”
The brewery also closely monitors its supply chain, water conservation and energy usage. chain. “Our main ingredients are water, malted barley, hops and yeast — and we think about the sourcing of each of those ingredients, and how we can use them more efficiently,” she explains. “For example, we have by-process water submeters all throughout both of our breweries, which helps us to have a granular understanding of where and how we are using water, in order to utilize it as efficiently as possible.”
NBB takes into account the influence its brewing procedures has on packaging, distribution and the actual brewing process itself. “Thankfully, our packaging supply chain is quite simple: stainless steel kegs, glass bottles, aluminum cans, paperboard and cardboard,” Villeneuve says. “All straightforward materials with strong recyclability and availability of recycled content.”
Distribution is the third largest source of NBB’s GHG emissions, she says. “When we made the decision to open a second brewery a few years ago, reducing the emissions and costs associated with distribution was one of our biggest reasons for doing so,” Villeneuve says. “In our first year of shipping beer from our North Carolina brewery to the Eastern states rather than from our Colorado location, we saw our emissions from distribution drop by 23 percent.”
Brewing beer is an energy intensive process because it requires a great deal of heating and cooling procedures. Additionally, multiple transfers of liquids to different vessels take place at each stage of the process, she adds. “Modern brewhouses, [including ours], make good use of heat exchangers and energy storage features, to dial back the amount of energy that we consume to begin with,” Villeneuve says. “At our Fort Collins brewery, we generate about 14 percent of our annual electricity needs onsite via solar panels and our onsite process water treatment plant is where we capture biogas that gets used to power two engines onsite.”
Villeneuve also notes that financial sustainability plays a key role in overall sustainability. “Operating a business sustainably means that you’re ensuring that your company and the raw materials you depend on to make your product are going to be around for generations to come,” she says.
NBB believes that transparency and authenticity with its consumers also is important to sustainability goals. “We publish an annual sustainability report, our ‘Force for Good Report,’ to share how we’ve been doing on our environmental metrics, and what some of our greatest successes and challenges have been over the past year.
“…We utilize our social media platforms to share relevant sustainability stories with our customers from time to time, and love sharing our story in a more personal or experiential fashion,” Villeneuve says.