Can Sustainability be Affordable?

Sustainability is a concept that goes hand in hand with the ethos of most craft brewers. How can we make the best beer possible while minimizing the impact to the environment? Breweries such as New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Full Sail have set a high bar with solar arrays, water reclamation projects and carbon offsetting. These concepts are great but may not be affordable for a small brewer. So, are there things that can be done at various levels of ability to invest in sustainability? The answer is a resounding yes. There are affordable things that can be done, from startup mode through to the mature brewery.

There may be things you are already doing that could be considered sustainable business practices. One thing that almost all breweries do is recycling of spent grain. Usually this is donated to a local rancher to feed their cattle. Oftentimes there is an arrangement whereby the same ranch’s beef is served in the brewery’s pub, bringing it full circle. Even in the absence of a clear market for the spent grains, creative solutions can be found. Alaska brewing powers its boiler using spent grain. Another sustainable practice that most brewers employ is a heat exchanger. Heat generated during the wort cooling process can be employed to reduce energy consumption for the next batch. Upgrading your heat exchanger can be a good way to gain efficiency in the brewhouse while reducing your energy consumption.

For a new brewery, looking at the brewery layout can be a good way to reduce some energy consumption. Where can gravity feed be used rather than pumps? Where should fermenters be located relative to the other equipment to reduce pumping distances? Is there used equipment that can be purchased that will work as well (albeit not as pretty) as brand new equipment? Designing your brewery with plans for expansion can help avoid problems in the future, as well. Rather than adding tanks based on where space might be available, planning ahead can bookmark a logical location for future tanks.

More established breweries can look at creating parti-gyle or second runnings beers, utilizing the same batch of grain for more than one brew. Lights can be set to motion sensors to turn off when areas are not in use and/or LED bulbs can be used. Low flow faucets and toilets can be installed. Even down to recycling and composting waste from your tasting room or brew pub. Another great and visible way to increase sustainability is through community involvement. Giving discounts in the pub or tasting room for using alternative transportation or partnering with a charitable organization to host an event are easy ways to do this.

As a brewery goes down the road of looking at more efficient and more expensive methods of sustainability, looking to government sources of funding should not be ignored. Often there are government grants or low interest loans that can assist in purchasing this type of equipment. Additionally there may be tax credits available for installation of efficient equipment. A financial or tax advisor should be consulted prior to purchasing.

Remember, you don’t need to be making 100,000 barrels of beer a year to be able to make an impact on the community and environment. We can all do our part.