The Energy & Utilities team of West Monroe Partners recently had the opportunity to visit a methane digester, solar array, and brewery during its bi-annual collaboration retreat in Eau Claire, WI. You may notice an outlier in that group of tours. How do Leinenkugel and other breweries relate to sustainability?
One of the first things you notice on a tour of any brewery is that it takes a large amount of energy, water, and resources to make beer. They also create significant amounts of waste in the form of spent grain and excess water. So, how are companies working to counteract the resource consumption that occurs naturally during the brewing process? Several breweries create sustainability value by donating their spent grain to local farmers to be used for animal feed and to more progressive farm operations for fuel to create biogas in a digester. There are also opportunities for breweries to increase use of renewable energy. Yards Brewing CO. and Brooklyn Brewing both use electricity that is 100% generated by wind power. Improving building energy efficiency is another good way to increase sustainability and Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids was the first LEED-certified microbrewery in the US (source: TriplePundit).
Our tour guide at Leinenkugel also made it clear that good, clean water is the most important ingredient for good beer. Kim Marotta, Director of Sustainability for MillerCoors, spoke to West Monroe about the importance of water management to the brewing industry. As the company’s 2015 Sustainability Report highlights, “water flows through every step of the brewing process, from the barley field through the bottling line.” It is critical that breweries learn how to make efficiency improvements to help preserve water resources. MillerCoors is making investments to reduce water usage throughout the agricultural supply chain, as well as on the brewery floor. As we face societal challenges in regards to managing our water supply, breweries especially have a vested interest in sustainable water use, not only for environmental reasons, but also to preserve their business. Large breweries like MillerCoors have the scalability and capital to make large improvements, but smaller craft breweries face different challenges to become more sustainable. Josh Deth, managing partner at Revolution Brewing in Chicago, points out, “At our size, we can’t hope to have an impact standing alone, but when we interact with other brewers, we can see some result” (source: Chicago Tribune). Last year, Revolution and over 30 other craft breweries joined with the NRDC to announce formation of the Brewers for Clean Water partnership, with the goal of supporting initiatives like the EPA’s Clean Water Act provisions to protect local water sources. Increasing water efficiency and managing local watersheds will continue to be vitally important to ensuring that beer is brewed in an environmentally responsible manner.
Considering the way breweries manage natural resources really underscores how sustainability connects to every aspect of our daily lives. Sustainability impacts our business decisions, lifestyle choices and even the beer we drink. You don’t need to run a methane digester on a dairy farm or install a solar array on your roof to play an active role in supporting green activities in your community. Support local businesses who have committed to sustainable business practices. Buy beer that is brewed locally to reduce emissions created by transportation; use refillable growlers to eliminate glass and aluminum waste; and be aware of your local brewers’ policies and practices involving waste and water management.