Sustainability in Production – An Eye on Craft Beer

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Blog 30

Craft beer is experiencing enormous growth in the American marketplace despite the downturn in the economy. Nationwide, there is a movement to support local businesses.  The craft beer industry has benefited from this movement.  Craft beers are considered to be beers that contain more complex flavors, such as stronger doses of hops, like Hopslam by Bell’s Brewery, Inc.  This is in opposition to more traditional light, golden lagers that are presented more readily in massive volumes from some of the larger production companies.

As the industry grows, important environmental law issues will ultimately affect the long-term growth and market stability of craft beer production in the United States. There are a number of issues that will loom large at some point for all producers.  Some of the key issues involve water rights, liquid and solid waste disposal, and energy efficiency. All of these could affect operating costs and risk management plans for producers.

These issues are likely to harm beer production in the near future especially in the more arid climates of the United States. Currently, in California a state of emergency has been it is undergoing a tremendous drought. Farmers are having to choose which crops they irrigate with the small amounts of water they have.  Water consumption issues prior to the current drought already plague California due to operation under a “prior appropriation” water system that gives water use preference to the first owner in the area.  This system requires that the landowner consume the same amount of prescribed water every year whether they need to use it or not. With this prior appropriation dating back to 1977, and the current climatic changes and situations, it makes it quite difficult to shift water resources, as well as incentivize any type of water conservation.

In 2011 the Midwest experienced a record breaking drought that has forced some city and county governments to consider xeriscaping incentives to conserve water usage during the extreme heat of summer months. Many farmers in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas were on the verge of losing their farming operations due to the lack of water for irrigation.  Some farmers in Texas lost their businesses after being informed by Texas water authorities that they would not receive irrigated water to raise crops this year due to water conservation efforts. Whereas in 2012 the state of Missouri instituted their State of Emergency Drought Relief Plan to pay for wells to be dug on property with the state picking up near 90% of the financial cost of the projects.  The projects in the program included drilling new wells, deepening existing wells and improving wells.  Water is the most important component in the creation of beer. It composes anywhere from 85% to 95% of many beers. Due to this fact, breweries use huge amounts of water while creating the finished product and lack of this vital ingredient can spell the end for a small brewer who is not adequately prepared for such an event.

Energy efficiency can create higher prices for all businesses, not just beer production. As the energy industry and environmentalists fight over the effects of various methods of extracting and obtaining fuels, the price of energy still continues to rise rapidly due to globalizing energy markets.

Many craft brewers are finding ways to lessen the effect of these issues by reclaiming heat, water, and CO2 typically lost during the brewing process.  Many use methodologies similar to the one that is published by the Brewer’s Association as seen here, or by utilizing the likes of The Green Brewery Project.  The Green Brewery Project is a non-profit, sustainability consulting firm that helps breweries become more sustainable and more profitable at the same time.  Many breweries trying to become more sustainable desire to obtain LEED certification, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  One such brewery is Brewery Vivant, which gained LEED Silver Certification for their efforts in capturing rainwater runoff in order to prevent it from entering the wastewater treatment system.  They offset 100% of electricity usage with renewable energy and utilized only energy-efficient appliances, among many other things.  Another way that brewers are helping to lessen the cost of waste management and manage their ecological impact is to use hop remains in local community garden compost, recycling aluminum cans and glass bottles, as well as turning spent brewing grains into other products such as feed for livestock, or pet treats.

One of the most complex and hard to adhere to issues that will affect the growth of the craft beer movement is the disposal of wastewater. As I mentioned above, 85 to 95% of most beers is water and it takes an enormous amount of water to produce beer.  That process naturally produces a number of chemical compounds and high amounts of organic, biodegradable matter residing in the brewery wastewater. This must be disposed of properly after the brewing process is complete. Disposal must be in compliance with all federal, state and local laws.  The failure of a small company to abide by these environmental laws could have horrible effects on the growth of the company. The government has the ability to prohibit further production through an injunction, or fine the brewery for violation of the rules.  A brewery must understand what role environmental regulations can play in the disposal of any industrial waste before operations begin. In fact, the application for a Brewer’s Notice license at the federal level includes gathering information in regards to all waste disposal plans.

All current and potential breweries would be wise to review their current and planned systems. Further, they should consider implementing sustainability measures that may help reduce their overall cost of operations, increase profits, and lessen the chance of any future legal liability due to non-compliance with environmental regulations.

If you are considering starting a brewery, or currently own one and are considering sustainable modifications, it is important to know that this might affect your Brewer’s Notice.  As such, if you have any questions about how to amend your Brewer’s Notice, or how this information is reflected on an original application for a new brewery, please contact our office and we’d be happy to assist you.