Friday, September 23, 2016

The Beer Industry is Emerging as a Sustainability Leader

Beer is a hugely popular beverage that is threatened by climate change and drought. In addition to water the beer industry is also dependent on grains and hops.

According to beer industry statistics, 1.93 billion hectoliters (100 liters) of beer are consumed globally each year. Beer is not only popular, it is also a huge industry with gross sales figures of around $20 billion per year.

Climate change is a threat to the beer industry.  As explained by Ceres the beer industry is rising to the challenge.

“leading breweries are finding innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practices and finding economic opportunity through investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste recapture, and sustainable sourcing.”

The industry is acting to manage the risks associated with water scarcity and climate change and they have emerged as sustainability leaders in the process.

Hops and grains

Global warming threatens both the grains (eg barley) used to make the beer and the hops used to flavor it. The warmer temperatures and extreme weather associated with climate change pose a danger to agriculture including hops and grains.

While the logic of growing hops, barley and other grains needed for beer production makes sense from a sustainability perspective, it may not be a viable idea.  Enthusiasm for this idea is tempered by California's four-year-old drought.

The fact that hops and grain for beer are not being grown in drought plagued California may make the supply more stable. However, the fact that they are grown up north means that they must travel further disatnaces and this increases their carbon footprints. 

The water problem

Water is absolutely fundamental to beer's production model and maintaining a steady supply may be the industries single biggest vulnerability. Water is the key ingredient in beer and it is also essential to grow the grains needed for beer production. More than 95 percent of every glass of beer consists of water.  It takes five gallons of water to make one gallon of beer (double for some smaller breweries). 

Water is especially critical in places like California where four years of drought is increasing costs. There are also concerns that the government's forthcoming industry regulations will augur additional costs and diminished access to water. 

The president of the California Craft Brewers Association explained the situation well when he said, “Water is a long-term worry for any business or resident in this state.”

As reported by Maxim, American demand for Mexican beer has actually caused a drought in a town where it is brewed. American's thirst for Carona, Negra Modelo, and Pacifico beer has led to serious local water shortages in the town of Zaragoza in Neva, Coahilua

In July the Mayor of Zaragoza, wrote a letter to the state govenor explaining that there is no water left for human consumption. Mayor Leonicio Martinez Sanchez surely appreciates the jobs and the taxes paid by Constellation Brands, which operates the brewery. However he is concerned about the 1,200 liters of water per second that is drawn from the 500-meter-deep wells to make the beer. Even more problematic is Constellation's plans to increase production.
“It's contradictory that while Constellation Brands has industrial amounts of water to make beer, the municipality of Zaragoza doesn't have 100 liters [per second of water] to give people to drink or use in their homes,” Mayor Sanchez said. “We’re worried because we’re already being impacted by this extraction of 1,200 liters of water per second…there’s barely a drop of water when you open the tap.”
Innovative water solutions

Driven by concerns about current and future water issues, the beer industry has become a global leader in water management. Drought has made it necessary for California's craft breweries to adopt innovative water management solutions. These breweries actively collaborate because they know that they must work together to ensure that their industry does not dry up.  Sharing water management techniques is critical in an industry where water scarcity has already forced some beer companies to limit production.

Craft breweries have been multiplying in the state of California adding an average of two new breweries every week. There are now more than 600 craft breweries in the state. This puts tremendous stress of Californial's limited water supplies.

Efforts to manage the problem are both diverse and creative. As reported in the Beer Advocate, Santa Barbara's Telegraph Brewing Company has pioneered innovative approaches to water conservation in their sanitation practices (when it comes to beer making cleanliness is key to a good brew). It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the bottom line, and wasting any resource is just not good business,” says Telegraph’s owner Brian Thompson.

In Carlsbad and Santa Barbara, desalination plants are being used to turn ocean water into fresh water. Chico's Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has been working to reduce its water usage for years. Their efforts include automating their brewing systems,  nozzle controls on the manual hoses and “burst rinsing” in CIPs, (brief, high-pressure blasts of water rather than continual streams). They have reduced their water usage by 25 percent since 2007.

Firestone Brewing Company’s “carbon footprint karma,” ensures that 80 percent of their product is consumed within 180 miles of the production facility. Firestone is also avoiding excessive rinsing, and installing steam and condensate recovery systems as well as automating their process.

Stone Brewing Company is building a distribution hub east of the Mississippi to cut transportation time. They are also integrating innovatiive water conservation techniques like like a dewatering press (still in process), which squeezes water from the spent grain. Stone has slashed their water usage during in their cleaning cycles to about 3.5 to 4 gallons of water per gallon of beer.

While high tech solutions like burst rinsing and the dewatering press could save a lot of water there are also a number of simple low-tech solutions that can be as simple as putting a big bucket under the fermentation tank opening as it cleans.

Water GHGs and money

As reported by Ethical Corp., good water stewardship can also contribute to GHG reductions and cost savings.  SABMiller found that its efforts to reduce water intensity also reduced CO2 emissions. This is because the processing and treatment of water requires energy. This contributed to cost savings. “Within our cost savings programmes [water and CO2 combined], we saved $117m in 2014/2015 [compared with 2010] from water- and energy-related initiatives.”

Between 2008 and 2011 SABMiller reduced its energy intensity by almost 4.5 percent from 161 to 154 MJ of energy per hectoliter of beer. In 2015 the company met its 15 percent reduction and reduced its packaging weight compared to 2008. 

Sustainability initiatives in the beer industry have substantially reduced water usage and emissions while saving money. That is a formula for success if ever there was one.

Related
Gray Water Can Make Beer and Renewable Energy
Heineken's Sustainability Leadership
Asahi May be the World's Greenest Brewery
Drought Impacts California's Wine and Beer Industries

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