“It’s not easy being green.”
— Kermit the Frog
The Fairfield brewery of Anheuser-Busch-Inbev has made a concerted effort to limit use of water; it is now among the most water-conscious of breweries but still uses nearly 3.5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of beer produced. Water conservation was doubtless a wise move considering that the brewery prefers to use water from Lake Berryessa, which, given the current drought conditions, may turn out to be a problem.
I think we would be better advised, long-term, to dig canals and tunnels to the Pacific Northwest to carry water to Northern California rather than digging tunnels to take it away.
Left alone, breweries are not particularly environmentally friendly enterprises. They use a lot of energy because, among other things, every drop of beer produced in the world is boiled for about one hour and later chilled to nearly freezing temperatures as part of its manufacture.
Breweries have large disposal problems of exhausted “spent” grain and used-up hops and tired yeast and, as already mentioned, they use oceans of water and caustic chemicals for cleaning and sanitizing the brewery; the fermentation stage discharges carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas).
There is also a good deal of solid waste associated with packaging materials, including broken bottles and wooden pallets and disposable cardboard and paper containers.
No! Left alone, breweries would exact a heavy price from the environment and, to tell the truth, that was how the industry operated in times that I can easily remember.
Fortunately, of course, breweries are not left alone these days. They have thoughtful brewers to take care of them.
I recently learned that the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico has been awarded the zero-waste platinum certification from the United States Zero Waste Business Council. The platinum certification is the highest level that can be achieved and this is the first time the platinum level has been achieved by any company.
The business council award meets the stringent requirements established by the Zero Waste International Alliance. The objective is to recognize and reward companies that manage their processes to limit waste production in the first place and then, by investment and innovation, avoid discharge of waste to landfill, incineration or to the environment.
To quote the words of a business council executive: “Our certification program holds to the highest standards and is one of the toughest in the country, so reaching the platinum level is a great accomplishment. We have never seen a company so efficient with their zero-waste management, and yet they are still striving to achieve an even higher standard, which is inspiring.
“I am very proud of the work that Sierra Nevada Brewing has done over the years to achieve a platinum rating. The company has displayed great knowledge of zero waste, which was very exciting to see during the staff interviews. Each employee’s vision of zero waste was very impressive.”
Sierra Nevada is credited with successfully diverting 99.8 percent of its waste streams from landfill, incineration and the environment.
This extraordinary re-focusing of an ancient process and busy industry (that has a history of indifference to environmental concerns and continues to have the potential to be distinctly “ungreen”) into a model of zero-waste management does not happen overnight nor without the most determined and diligent leadership and a dedicated staff that buys into the objectives.
“Resource conservation is important to me and I’ve always felt it’s the right way to do business,” said Ken Grossman, owner and founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. “Everyone at Sierra Nevada participates in our zero-waste efforts and takes pride in what we do. Although we have built a great zero-waste program, we will continue to look for ways to improve.”
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (with the notable aid of PG&E) also has made large investments in solar energy, biochemical energy recovery systems and fuel cells with the eventual objective of energy independence. Now it is doing the same for waste streams — most notably, it is the first brewery ever to install a commercial HotRot composting system; the compost serves Sierra Nevada’s organic hop farm and their gardens that supply the brewery’s restaurant with fruits and vegetables.
At the other end of the brewery size-spectrum is the Anheuser-Busch-Inbev Brewing Company. The distinguished awards the company has won for environmental awareness and waste control over many years and across the country are too many to list. However, as an example, it’s worth mentioning that the California Integrated Waste Management Board named Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield and Los Angeles breweries as Waste Reduction Awards Program winners for most of the years during which the award existed (to 2011).
The last announcement marked the 16th time the Fairfield brewery had been named and the 11th time for the Los Angeles brewery. The WRAP award honored businesses for reducing the amount of trash they produce, conserving resources, educating employees and lowering waste disposal in landfills.
ABI also has made major investments in biochemical energy recovery systems, and solar and wind power (most, I am sure have seen the huge windmill at the brewery along Interstate 80). And now, as already mentioned, ABI has a major effort to reduce water use to 3.5 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of beer across all of its breweries. Some ABI-breweries already have exceeded that target, including our local one at Fairfield.
As Kermit sings, “It’s not easy being green.” But, as he realizes, it is something to be proud of and even rejoice in. Not just for the winners of awards, either, but for all of us who have a connection to the brewing industry as professionals and — most important of all — as beer consumers.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com