The Practice of Sustainability


In our current business environment you can’t simply recycle and claim to have a green company. Today it has become much greater than that. Sustainability practices are now more about building materials, energy usage and lowering your carbon footprint.

A lot of breweries have jumped on the bandwagon early on in regards to developing strong sustainability practices for either their brewing, facilities or energy resolution. We spoke with three breweries throughout the U.S. that are focused on each.

How Lagunitas has dealt with the California drought. 

As everyone knows, over the past couple of years, California has experienced extreme drought in enough areas that government regulations have been enforced on companies, as well as residents. Breweries, being lumped into this group and being reliant on quality water, have had to focus a lot of energy on problem solving in regards to water sustainability practices.

Karen Hamilton, the director of communications for Lagunitas, said that the brewery hasn’t had huge problems thus far. “There was a threat last year that our water source in Petaluma would be switched to the city well system, which would carry more mineral content and we would have had to put in a reverse osmosis filter,” she explained. “If it does happen, we have plenty of ground water so we won’t have to stop brewing or anything, but we would have to put in that filter to clean the water. The water we get right now comes from the Russian River watershed, and that watershed has been just fine.”

Lagunitas has spent a fair amount of time looking into the future as to what could occur if the water situation became more dire. They have begun using the EcoVolt System, “which processes all of our outgoing water from post brewing, which has high biological oxygen demand (BOD),” said Hamilton. “BOD, when it breaks down, it consumes oxygen and creates Co2 just like a fermentation, and when we send that to a typical water treatment facility it kills the bacteria that work on breaking down the impurities so the water doesn’t become purified.”

This prevents the wastewater treatment plants from functioning. “Post brewing water needs to be sent to a different water treatment facility designed to accommodate this,” said Hamilton. “There are two types of bacteria — aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. Typical water treatment plants have aerobic bacteria, meaning they need oxygen. Anaerobic bacteria don’t need oxygen and there are these anaerobic bacteria that have been recently discovered that are one celled electric eels, where they eat organic material (what exists in post brewing water) — and they’ll create electricity and methane.”

Lagunitas is capable of harnessing the methane and reusing it in a similar way that they capture the electricity and feed it back into the grid. “These little microbes are eating the sugars that are left in our post brewing water and all the other organic material,” explained Hamilton. “We’ll be able to reuse 90 percent of our post brewing water in ways that will never become beer, but it’ll work rinsing tanks. It’ll work running through heat exchangers where we need water — there’s a lot of water use that we have that never becomes beer, and we can keep recirculating.”

The brewery has already put steps in place to reduce the amount of water it uses in cleaning tanks, but Hamilton said that with the ability to reuse water, that system has become even better. Additionally, the steps Lagunitas has taken in regards to water sustainability has assisted in its brewing and money savings.

“We are now more thoughtful about how we use water — we’re trying to reduce our gallons of water to beer,” explained Hamilton. “We were running before at a 7:1 ratio. We’re down to about 3:1 right now and the EcoVolt should help that even more. We’ve done things internally to use less water in rinsing tanks and now with the reuse, it’s gotten even better.

“From a business aspect, it’s money savings. It’s the six to seven trucks a day that were going out with our post brewing water to a special water treatment facility in Richmond, [California], a municipal water treatment facility that handles industrial water. The trucks that took our water over there added up to about $1.5 million last year, so when you think about the EcoVolt taking all those trucks out of play and then think about the methane and electricity that we’ll be able to use, it’s going to pay for itself in a short period of time — approximately seven years.”

Forward thinking solutions from New Belgium Brewing

When New Belgium Brewing considers sustainability, the first thought to mind is always conservation. “Beyond that, we look into renewable energy,” explained Katie Wallace, the assistant director of sustainability for New Belgium Brewing. “The right fit will vary by site as well as the operational synchronicities available.”

Since 2002 New Belgium Brewing has used methane from its process water treatment plant to create electricity “as it was a convenient source of fuel,” according to Wallace. “Additionally, we had a consultant evaluate our site and recommend its viability for various forms of renewable energy. It turned out that wind and geothermal were not terrific options for our site, but solar was.”

New Belgium believed that the move toward solar was a good investment with the increased research being performed on the sustainability method. “Our partners at Namaste Solar share our values as they are also employee-owned and a Certified B Corp.,” said Wallace. “They helped us discover the most efficient and cost-effective approaches to installation, which made the process fluid for us.”

Wallace recommended three tips in looking to install solar panels at the brewery. The first is to ensure that the roof can support panels in your initial construction. This will require some forward thinking, but Wallace says it can save a lot of money in the long run. The second was to reach out to your local utility provider to get more information on meter connections and other incentives that might come your way. Finally, Wallace said to use a reputable installation company. “They will guide you through many decisions along the way and a good partner will influence an optimal outcome,” she said. “Doing it the right way in the beginning will save costs and ensure panel efficiency in the long term.”

Sustainability begins with the restaurant at Schlafly.

Although a lot of sustainability practices discussed regularly revolve around renewable energy and saving energy, the true beginning is inside the building itself. This is where Schlafly Brewing decided to start its journey.

“In 2009 we applied for and received a grant from the St. Louis/Jefferson Solid Waste Management District for a pilot restaurant post-consumer — meaning plate scrapings — composting program,” said Tom Flood, the properties and sustainability manager of The Saint Louis Brewery, Schlafly Brand Beer. “Their grants are for solid waste landfill diversion and are funded through landfill tipping fees. We extended the grant the following year in order to work out bugs in the system and in order to gather more data.”

The brand had already been composting vegetables and fruit prep at its Bottleworks restaurant location for use in its own garden. “In addition to the on-site composting — about five tons per year — we divert approximately 70 tons of food waste from landfills,” explained Flood.

The Bottleworks location has a 1/7 acre restaurant garden where produce for the restaurants is grown. “We have grown about 2 tons in each of the last couple of years,” said Flood. “While we grow everything organically, it is not a certified organic garden. We also source a lot of the food for the restaurants locally, from several area farmers and producers. We have a separate Famers Menu at the Bottleworks restaurant which features three to four items sourced locally.”

In pursuing a lot of the sustainable infrastructure that Schlafly has, it followed the LEED certification parameters beginning in 2002, but didn’t have any intention of becoming certified. “We were aware of LEED criteria at the time, and tried to follow some of them, but were challenged, capital-wise, with the costs of building a new brewery, so didn’t do as much as we had hoped,” said Flood. “But, that was the start of our awareness of what things could be done to lower our impact on the environment, even though we had already been giving cattle and pig farmers spent grain from our original, smaller taproom location for years.”

Additionally, Flood said Saint Louis Brewery has focused a lot on energy sustainability, much like other breweries throughout the U.S. Where it strives for differentiation is through its food waste and localization of food consumption. Flood added that he wasn’t aware of another location that hosted a weekly Farmers Market. This market occurs every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in April through October. There is a winter market held November through March.

While sustainability practices can be pursued in a multitude of fashions, what is important is that breweries maintain an awareness of resources and their place within our world. With the amount of land and resources breweries use to maintain business, it’s vital that they continue to look for new and innovative opportunities to help build a more sustainable planet.

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