Who doesn’t love beer? Thanks to the craft beer boom, people have access to an unprecedented selection of new types of beer from around the globe. New breweries are popping up every day, and people are taking a greater interest in their beer. But, what does this beersplosion mean for the environment? I’m sorry to say, it isn’t all good.
Wait! What’s Wrong With Beer?
Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Well, beer really isn’t the best for the environment. As you’re well aware, making absolutely anything has some sort of carbon footprint. Beer’s no different, and unfortunately, there are a few steps along the way that aren’t the greenest.
First, beer takes a lot of raw materials to make. Barley, the main grain component in beer, takes a lot of land to farm. The process requires the soil to be worked extensively, and barley needs a fair amount of water. Unless the grain is farmed organically, which most isn’t, pesticides are a factor too, increasing the negative impact.
Like barley, hops, the ingredient responsible for beer’s bitter taste, also requires a decent chunk of land and a whole lot of water to grow. In conventional(non organic) hop growing, which currently accounts for the vast majority in the US, multiple pesticides are used to protect the crop. Again, the toll on the environment is pretty clear.
Then, beer requires even more water to actually produce. You’d think that all the water ends up in the beer, but that’s not the case. It takes multiple times more water to produce beer, meaning the majority of it goes to waste.
Then, there’s the bottles and cans. Whether it’s glass or aluminum, it’s going to take energy and raw materials to make, even if those materials are recycled. That all, of course, expands the beer’s footprint even more.
On top of all that, beer’s heavy, takes up a lot of space, and needs to be refrigerated. It’s not hard to see how all that ads up to even more emissions in the shipping and storage process, especially if you’re drinking imported beer.
Oh, and if you thought it stopped there, you’re sadly mistaken. All those extra ingredients that make your favorite craft beer so unique have an impact of their own. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all beer is vegan, and even if you aren’t vegan, you should still be aware that animal products have a much bigger impact. That’s just one more thing to tack on to the tally.
Is There a Greener Way to Make Beer?
It all sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? It’s not all that bad. Actually, breweries are aware of the problems with beer, and they’re actively working to make their craft more efficient and less impactful.
More than a few brewers have made the switch to either full or partial renewable energy. It’s not just smaller local ones, either. Powerhouses like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have joined in the push for green energy. Other popular brewers, like New Belgium, Heineken, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, and SweetWater are all using renewables to create their beer.
At the same time, beer making techniques and technology is advancing and becoming more aware of the resources being used. Brewers are working to use less water and locally source grains. At the same time, they’re seeing to it that their used grains aren’t wasted, selling them to local farmers to feed to cattle. Then, there’s the distribution. More breweries are moving toward recycled cans and bottles too.
What Brands are Doing it Right?
No one’s perfect, but there are always going to be some options that are better than others. First, as with many things, going small is usually better. Smaller breweries tend to be more focused with their craft and doing things the right way than pumping out volume. That’s not universally true, and there are exceptions, like MillerCoors which is doing a lot to make their beer as sustainable as possible, but it’s a fairly strong trend.
The breweries that are doing the right way are taking steps to use as much renewable energy as possible to power their facilities and brew their beer. They’re also carefully sourcing their ingredients and making sure that their shipping and materials are also as sustainable as possible.
So, if you’re looking to pick up the greenest possible six pack the next time you’re in the store, consider something from one of these breweries.
- Sierra Nevada
- Brooklyn Brewery
- New Belgium
- Alaskan Brewing
- Full Sail Brewing Company
- Great Lakes Brewing Company
- Odell Brewing Company
The Greenest Option: Go Local
Even with everything considered, “greenest” option right now is going local. Find a local brewery that you like, buy a growler or two from them, and get them filled whenever you want beer at home. Local breweries are more likely to be conscious of their impact than the bigger players, and they’ll probably have arrangements with other small businesses in the area for both ingredients and the disposal of waste materials, like spent grain.
Bringing your own growlers eliminates glass waste and shipping. As an added bonus, you get to drink fresh beer straight from the source, rather than something bottled months ago and shipped cross country. If that wasn’t reason enough, most local breweries have seasonal events with special limited release beers. Of course, you don’t need a special even to pull up a stool in your local brewer’s tasting room and drink fresh – and usually significantly discounted – beer, all while feeling better, knowing you’re making better choices for the environment.