I love craft beer for many, many reasons. At the top of my list is the fact that craft breweries are making sustainability an industry-wide standard. With over 3,000 craft breweries in the US, that’s quite the positive impact. Why are so many breweries ecologically committed? Brewers take their craft seriously and understand that a healthy environment provides them with the ingredients they need to produce beer of the highest quality.
I’ve rounded up the most sustainable breweries in the industry. I am not ranking the breweries, as I’ve noticed that the level of sustainability seems to correlate to the size of the brewery. There is a great number of smaller, craft breweries who may not be able to buy hoards of solar panels, but are nonetheless actively involved in their community and committed to thoughtful, high-quality products. So, read over my list and then go happily lap up a pint or two.
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
Anderson uses solar panels for 40% of their electrical needs. Local farmers use their spent grain and spent hops are applied to fields as natural fertilizer. They package their beer in aluminum cans, which requires less energy to transport and less energy to recycle than glass. Their 100 barrel copper brew house is recycled from two closed breweries in Germany. And my favorite part: their land management is au naturale. A team of goats mows their grass and a cat named Crystal keeps the brewery pest-free.
Bell’s diverts 93% of their waste from landfills. The brewery produces 50,000 pounds of spent grain daily. Thankfully, a local farmer uses the grain to feed his dairy cows. The brewery also hosts a green roof that decreases the need for heating, venting and air conditioning.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Kansas City, MO
In 2009, 10 million empty Boulevard beer bottles ended up in the landfill. This was because there was no nearby facility to process glass. With the support of local companies and organizations, Boulevard started Ripple Glass, a processing plant dedicated to glass. In 2011, the plant recycled enough glass to produce 100 million Boulevard beer bottles.
A note on glass: glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss of quality or purity. Unfortunately, the US doesn’t mandate glass recycling so many glass containers end up in the landfill. And according to Ripple Glass, “Glass isn’t collected in most area curbside recycling programs, and for good reason. When mixed with other recyclables, broken glass degrades and contaminates those materials, causing them to be “downcycled” into lower quality products.” This is why facilities like Ripple Glass are so important.
Brooklyn brewery was the first New York City company to utilize 100% wind-generated electricity. They also recycle all paper, plastic, bottles and spent grain. They also recycle hot water from the brew house.
Eel River Brewing Co.
As Eel River was America’s first certified organic brewery, I thought it deserved a spot on the list. Their brewery is set in an old redwood lumber mill and is 100% biomass powered. Eel River hosts an on-site wastewater pre-treatment system that filters the water and sets it at a neutral pH. They also focus on local ingredients; most of their ingredients are sourced from the Pacific Northwest.
Full Sail Brewing Co.
Hood River, OR
Full Sail has focused much of their efforts on conserving water, which is sourced from a spring on Mt. Hood. They have reduced their water usage to 2.5 gallons per gallon of beer produced (the lowest water to beer ratio in the industry). That is SUBSTANTIAL, considering the industry average is 10 gallons of water per gallon of beer. Like Eel River, they also have an on-site water treatment plant.
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Ohio is my home state, so I’m delighted to see this one make the list! Great Lakes operates Pint Size Farm, 16,000 sq. ft. of veggies, herbs and flowers all used at their brewpub. Anything they can’t produce themselves comes from local, environmentally responsible farmers. Their delivery truck runs on vegetable oil reclaimed from the restaurant and their spent grain goes to local farmers. They also use cold winter air to cool the beer and have 12 solar panels.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
Fort Collins, CO
New Belgium is very thorough about measuring their environmental impact. They transparently divulge their water, waste and emission metrics on their website. Among their more notable achievements is the diversion of 99.9% of their waste from landfills. They are currently taking part in a brewery-wide waste stream audit, with hopes of becoming a certified zero-waste facility.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Sierra Nevada is the mecca of sustainable breweries. It is also one of the largest in the US and so, I assume, possesses more resources (monetary and non-monetary) to ‘green’ their brewing process. To start things off, they are the largest private owner of solar panels in the country. That is 10,573 panels. If that is not enough, they divert 99.8% of their waste through reuse, recycling and compost. Sierra Nevada also focuses much of their attention on the impact of transportation. They have a private rail spur that delivers malt to their brewery from only two miles away. They ship 70% of their finished product to the east coast by rail, which is 50% cleaner than truck travel. 100% of the waste vegetable oil from their restaurant is used in their truck fleet as biodiesel. And…“Hops are delivered to the brewery on trucks that are loaded with beer for the return trip to Washington” (sierranevada.com).
Uinta Brewing Co.
Salt Lake City, UT
Uinta is 85% wind powered and 15% solar powered. Like Boulevard Brewing Co., they created a brown glass-recycling center. They also donate their spent grain, keeping 3.5 million pounds out of the landfill annually.