Sustainability part 1: Can’t beer the thought of climate change?
You’ve just taken the recycling out after biking home, your vegan, locally sourced dinner is in the oven. You open the fridge and reach for a beer. You’ve been so conscious of your environmental impact in every other part of your day, but have you thought about the impacts of the beer you’re about to drink?
The world seems to be full of information on how every action you take may have some terrible effect on the state of the world. I know what you’re thinking “please don’t tell me I should feel guilty about my beer too?” Don’t worry, this two-part blog will guide you through the impact and sustainability of beer so you can make informed choices on what you choose to fill your glass.
A new craft beer brewery opens every six days in Australia, and many breweries both new and established are concerned with sustainability. Not just in terms of surviving in an ever increasingly competitive market but in terms of environmental impacts. As breweries increase in size, so can their potential impact on the environment. From grain to glass, all aspects of brewing, distribution and storage have environmental impacts, with water use and energy consumption being the two primary considerations.
Brewing is a very water and energy-intensive process. On average, the entire production process of brewing will consume 60 kWh for every 100 litres of beer produced, which can be regarded as a significant contributor of greenhouse gases.
Water is used in every step of the brewing process, but only a small amount actually makes it into the final product. Inside the average brewhouse, it takes 8L of water to produce 1L of beer. At less efficient breweries, the ratio can go as high as 13L to one. Cleaning uses the most water; 4-10L per L of beer, and additional water is needed for cooling and packaging. Much of the water used in breweries is lost to evaporation or is simply sent down the drain.
Where breweries are sourcing their water, how much they are using and what they do with it after makes a big difference to the sustainability of a beer. Australian craft breweries are increasingly installing water meters at various sections of the operation to reduce water consumption during the beer production process as well as recovering water throughout the brewing process to be used in cleaning processes that do not require high quality water.
This 8L of water per 1L beer usage doesn’t account for the irrigation and chitting of the barley or growing hops.
Many commercial barley crops are irrigated to ensure good quality plump grains, ideal for brewing, despite the fact that barley can be grown as a dry land crop. Barley is steeped, germinated, dried and sometimes roasted in the production of malt for brewing. Drying and roasting are the most energy-intensive parts of this process, using both electrical and heat energy. Then comes the large quantities of spent grain waste (see our previous blog about using spent grain in novel ways).
While the way barely is grown is largely out of the brewers control, some unique breweries who grow their own barley can have more control over sustainable farming practices, such as Van Dieman Brewing.
Many breweries now practice sustainability by sourcing ingredients locally, reusing water whenever possible, donating spent grain to local animal farmers or reusing it in food productions, using smart packaging like recycled cans and cardboard, and many are turning to the sun for their brewery energy needs.
The more recent shift to solar powered beer has perhaps been even more popular among the nation’s indie craft brewers. 3 Ravens roof-top solar panels reduce the brewery's carbon dioxide emissions by 106 tonnes per year (equivalent to 23 cars yearly). Not only are these investments good for the environment, but the installation is projected to save 3 Ravens $21000 per year on energy costs.
Stomping Ground have installed solar panels on their beer hall roof which supplies 60% of their electricity needs.
Harnessing the power of the sun is not just something the small craft breweries are doing, CUB recently launched their VB solar exchange program where people with excess energy captured by home solar panels can cash in for slabs of VB, with the energy being used to run the brewery.
Some more examples of climate friendly innovations include:
Young Henry’s are taking science and innovation in brewing to the extreme.
They use a photosynthetic algae to consume carbon dioxide emitted in the brewing process and power the brewery. The 400L bioreactor installed in Young Henrys Newtown brewery produces as much oxygen as one hectare of Australian forest. They have also recently pledged to become fully solar powered by 2026.
Stone and Wood and Two Birds have taken it upon themselves to ensure their glass use is fully recycled by sending the glass from the brew bar back to the supplier to be recycled, as well as ensuring they source their ingredients locally.
Scotland’s BrewDog are taking it one step further and going carbon negative.
They are achieving this by investing in biodiversity projects. They have bought an 830 hectare plot of land on which they plan to plant millions of trees, as well as recovering large areas of peat moss boglands which are very effective carbon sinks. One tree takes two full days to absorb the carbon dioxide produced from the fermentation of just one six pack of beer. Perhaps BrewDog are helping other breweries pick up their emissions slack.
Really it is within breweries’ best interest to reduce the industry’s impact on carbon emissions, as ultimately climate change will affect many aspects of brewing including the geographic growing regions of hops and barley, the cost and availability of fresh water impacting the sustainability of the Australian craft brewing scene. You can do your part by supporting breweries who are making meaningful efforts in improving their environmental impact.