Craft breweries are a progressive lot. There’s an overarching lifestyle that focuses on outdoor life, often a small-time, do-it-yourself approach, a community focus, and typically some awareness about their environmental impact as a brewery. While it’s still an industry that makes a carbon footprint (statistics show that to brew one gallon of beer it takes at least five gallons of water, plus some notable transportation costs), there’s an evolving movement among breweries to minimize that impact.
Here are a few choice cuts among the 3000+ breweries in the Unites States who are trying their hand at sustainability. This is by no means a comprehensive ranking, but a few of the more dedicated or more unique ways that breweries are cutting their carbon footprint.
Fort Collins, CO
This certified B Corporation leads the charge of craft brewing in so many ways it’s almost become cliché. They focus on quality beer first and foremost, but the company espouses a clear social and environmental message within and without, locally and from coast to coast. New Belgium is among a few craft breweries who claim to be the first wind powered brewery in the country, they divert almost 100% of waste from landfills, have water-use reduction initiatives that have gotten their ratio down to nearly 3.5 gallons used for every one gallon brewed, encourage bicycling to work, and contribute to environmentally friendly Fort Collins city causes. In short, a B Corporation certification means a business has a clearly identified focus on social and environmental causes.
Brooklyn is another wind powered brewery and, like many in the industry, they also ship their spent grains to local farms as animal feed. However, they do a lot more than that, from the little things like using compostable cups in their tasting room to using solar panels to power their warehouse. Established in 1987, there are also programs in place to recycle hot water and to recapture CO2. Sustainability isn’t a one step program that features recycling or alternative power, it’s a philosophy geared toward efficiency, reduction, and awareness across the entirety of the business.
Everyone does sustainability differently. In part, because they are in different communities with different resources, in part because they have different personalities at the helm. Ohio’s Great Lakes takes a more agricultural approach by owning their own “Pint Size Farm” in nearby Bath, OH, where they organically farm vegetables and herbs for their brewpub. They also send spent grains to farmers and, most intriguingly, their delivery trucks run on vegetable oil recycled from the brewpub. With a Zero Waste Initiative in place, even the food served on site plays a role, with brewing byproducts appearing in menu items like bread and pretzels.
Eel River, which opened in 1994, was the first certified organic brewery in the US and is 100% powered by renewable energy—namely bio-mass energy. This is a fitting theme, with the brewery located in a former lumber mill. The majority of their ingredients come from local and Pacific Northwest sources and packaging is all made with recycled material and reclaimed wood.
By this point it’s clear that renewable energy, spent grains, and recycling play a big role in the industry. Some places stand out by their efforts to reduce waste on an industrial scale, as in reducing water use or increasing efficiency in heating and cooling. Others are more creative. Sure, Anderson Valley has won statewide awards for waste reduction, but it’s their premises upkeep that warrants attention. The 28-acre plot is kept up in the most natural way possible, using goats to help keep the grass short and a cat for pest control. It’s all in the food chain.