Green is one of the hottest buzzwords of the century. More and more focus is being placed on sustainability, environmental protection and conservation on resources in all industries and that includes craft brewing (and big beer, too, of course). It is interesting to note the number of breweries that are going green in one way or another.
Is Green Beer Better for You?
Before we jump into looking at the steps being taken by various breweries around the country to “green up” their act, the question of whether or not beer brewed by an eco-friendly brewery is actually better for you than beer brewed by a brewery that’s not taking these steps. The short answer is “no”. Why isn’t it better for you?
In contrast to most other foodstuffs out there, beer doesn’t contain much in the way of additives, particularly if the brewery is following German brewing regulations (which many do). Beer is all-natural already – water, malt, hops and yeast aren’t exactly what you would call synthetic additives. Therefore, most beer (with some exceptions including caffeinated beer) is about as healthy as you can get. Of course, there are additives that can increase the perceived health benefits, including:
- Higher folate levels
- Vitamins derived from fruit additives (trace amounts, at least)
Potential Benefits Are Real
Now, just because beer is all-natural doesn’t mean that’s the whole story. You have to look at the source of the basic ingredients to really determine what’s going on in terms of health levels. For instance, a green brewery that sources grain from an organic supplier ensures that you’re not getting any byproducts of the growing process in the mix. A brewer that sources non-GMO grain ensures that you’re getting “natural” grains.
Part of the problem, particularly in the US, is that there are only loose regulations governing the use of terms like “organic”, all natural and the like. There’s a lot of wiggle room for half-truths and even some claims that seem downright false, without incurring governmental wrath or sanctions from the FDA. These concerns apply to pretty much all ingredients, from barley and wheat to hops and even the very water used in the wort.
With that being said, there are some benefits to buying your brew from an organic or green brewery. These include being able to avoid potential pesticide complications, issues with GMO foods (none of which have been scientifically proven, by the way), and peace of mind that you’re supporting a brewery that’s doing its part to benefit the environment. So what do these breweries do that helps protect the planet?
A Variety of Steps to Be Eco-Friendly
One of the most important steps a brewery can take to become a lot greener is to focus on ways to change their power supply situation. All breweries need electricity, and most need quite a bit of it. When drawn from the traditional power grid, that means the burning of fossil fuels, the damming of rivers for hydropower and possibly even the proliferation of nuclear power plants depending on where and how the power is being generated.
Electricity generation is rarely environmentally friendly, but some breweries are finding ways to cut their carbon footprints. For instance, you’ll find that New Belgium Brewing in Colorado (one of the largest craft breweries in the country) is taking their commitment to the environment very seriously in terms of electricity (this should really come as no surprise, as the brewery is well known for their commitment to sustainability and giving back to the local community).
New Belgium has adopted a forward thinking stance to electricity consumption that has reduced their power usage by a considerable amount over the last few years. Their goal is a reduction of 25% energy consumption by 2018. However, that’s not the end to the company’s efforts. You’ll find that they focus on creating change in many other ways. One of those is through water usage and conservation. By 2015, the company plans to have cut water intensity by 12%, to 3.5 hectoliters of water to hectoliters of beer.
Greenhouse gas emissions are also a hot topic with New Belgium. They have a goal of reducing their emissions by 25% by 2015, down to 22.82 kg of CO2 per hectoliter of beer, down from 2008’s 32.13 kg/hectoliter. Finally, the brewery is focusing on waste diversion as well. Their goal is to reduce waste diversion by 95.0% by 2015, which they have actually already exceeded. For 2009, they had a waste diversion percentage of 95.6%, not including grain and sludge sales to local farmers.
New Belgium is far from the only craft brewery going to great lengths to protect the environment. The well-known Dogfish Head Brewery also has a number of initiatives in place that offer environmental benefits as well as help for the local community. They do this through their Beer & Benevolence program, which supports local artists and creators, as well as their Off-Centered Film Fest, which supports indie filmmakers. Recycling, DIY and sustainability are also important matters throughout the company’s culture.
The Future for Green Brewing
The future of green brewing is bright indeed. In the immediate future, you can look for other craft breweries to begin leading the way toward a greener future through initiatives like buying solar credits or even investing in solar and wind power generation technology. Buying certified organic an GMO-free products is also on the rise as consumers begin to voice their concern on these topics.
What will actually lead to greater sustainability in the industry is the combined voices of beer lovers everywhere. The more drinkers who care about sustainability and protecting the environment, the more important it will be for breweries to do their part. Eventually, this will even spill over to big business. If the environment matters to you, make your voice heard by buying from breweries like Dogfish Head and New Belgium that are already making considerable progress in becoming as green as possible.