Beer Today Beer Tomorrow: The Journey to a Sustainable Industry

The journey to becoming a good sustainable business – one that seeks to be around for future generations by addressing and improving the impact it has on society and the environment – is not easy. In a well-established industry this journey may come with additional challenges. So how is one of the oldest industries in the world faring on its own sustainability journey?
The beer industry is a prime example of how an established industry can undergo a bit of a sustainability renascence. New strategies and innovations, coupled with creative social enterprises are emerging, as breweries all over the world take different approaches to tackle issues such as energy usage, waste, packaging and social challenges. In doing so they have identified opportunities for sustainable and responsible growth; highlighted a new style of brand differentiation, and put key issues into the minds, hands and mouths of consumers.
From the global beer megabrands implementing and communicating to-scale sustainability programmes – to the newbies on the brewing block taking ingenious approaches to create both profit and purpose from a new brew – key challenges in the industry are being broken down and tackled head on.
Repurposing Food Waste 
Creative ways of using food and ingredient waste at both ends of the brewing process are seeing collaborations between brewers, bakers and cereal bar makers. Taking on the waste challenge from the fore are the likes of Toast Ale who replace one-third of the barley used in a typical brew with bread that would otherwise be wasted.  All profits go to charity to support the bigger fight against food waste. Pieper Beer use surplus potatoes which would have otherwise been wasted to brew; whilst other breweries such as Northern Monk are collaborating with charities like The Real Junk Food Project to create new products like Wasted Beer, brewing with would-be-wasted croissants, pears and brioche. At the other end of the brewing process, we’ve got the likes of ReGrained who are taking spent gain from breweries and turning this into cereal bars; and Hewn an artisanal bakery which produces a loaf using spent grains. Not forgetting our pets, DoggieBeerBones is a company in San Diego producing dog treats made with upcycled malted barley from the brewing process.

A Social Mission
Using their products and profits for good, BrewGooder is at the start of a journey to provide one million people with access to clean water. This is the craft beer label that donates 100% of its profits to clean water projects around the world. Whilst start-up brewing company Sparkke Change Beverage Co is raising awareness and funds for important social issues through beer, and their aim is to start conversations by wrapping political messages around cans. Looking ahead into 2017 a new craft brewery Triple Bottom Brewing Company is set to open in Philadelphia, and seeks to provide a jobs programme for people who have criminal records or are experiencing homelessness. Their belief is that breweries can “lead the way in catalysing community development”.
Packaging and Recycling
Bottle return schemes and consumer use of take-away “growlers” (glass vessels conserving draught beer for home drinkers) can reduce the volume of bottles, cans and packaging, whilst also reducing the amount of packaging entering the waste stream. However, some breweries are going further with their efforts to create eco-friendly and less environmentally damaging packaging. Saltwater Brewery in Florida for example is a craft brewery with a mission to make the oceans safer for wildlife – one ring holder at a time. Their six-packs of beer are packaged with biodegradable, edible ringsinstead of the traditional plastic rings. Closing the production loop further, the rings are made from wheat and barley, which is left over from the process of brewing the beer. Taking a more disruptive approach Carlsberg, in partnership with Danish packaging company EcoXpac, CP+B Copenhagen and Kilo, a Danish industrial design studio, are developing a beer bottle made from sustainably sourced wood fibre. The bottle fibres will come from responsibly managed sources, and will degrade into non-harmful materials if discarded. The new bottle is scheduled to be test-launched in a pilot market in 2018. If successful, innovations such as these could change the way not only the beer industry thinks about packaging, but all consumer goods manufacturers and retailers.
Reducing Energy Use 
Switching operations and processes to renewable energy will prove beneficial to the bottom line in the long term. Brooklyn Brewery has been wise to the benefits, switching all processes to wind energy purchased from the grid. Looking at self-energy generation, Sierra Nevada’s Chico brewery in California has one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in the country and more breweries are installing solar panels in order to produce their own electricity. Of the large-scale breweries, Guinness’s brewhouse No. 4 in Ireland was awarded LEED Platinum for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is said to be the first major brewery in the world to have achieved the highest LEED level available, embedding energy efficiency into all aspects of the building design, construction, maintenance and operations.
Water consumption and wastewater disposal remain environmental and economic hurdles that directly affect breweries and the brewing process. As one of the primary ingredients in beer, and a vital resource for all, water is a key and fundamental issue which breweries need to address. The Brewery Association’s highlights innovative solutions to water and waste water management. Bell’s brewery in Michigan installed a new system to reduce water that goes down the drain from 56 litres per minute to 7 litres per minute, saving the brewery over 9 million litres of water annually from their filling operations. Looking to the largest breweries SABMiller’s Bluetongue Brewery in New South Wales, Australia features its own water recovery plant. The plant has reduced the need for fresh water by around 50% and also provides renewable energy for the brewery.

Of the larger brewing companies, we see new methods of communicating sustainability strategies emerging, as they try to engage stakeholders with their challenges and mission. In 2015 Heineken invited vocal artist Kevin ‘Blaxtar’ de Randamie to transform their sustainability report into a piece of visual content which would engage a millennial audience. Molson Coors has created ‘Our Beer Print’ infographic which encompasses all operations into their sustainability plan, and guides the organisation as they seek to increase their positive beer print and reduce their negative beer print. Stella Artois has recently taken to the screen and incorporated their ongoing partnership with into their mainstream advertising strategy, highlighting the issue to millions of people. Here we see the power of a big global brand using prime advertising air time to communicate a key message and send out a call to action to consumers.
Looking ahead
Looking ahead these breweries are tackling key challenges in the industry by breaking issues down into manageable focus areas. The innovations and open-mindedness in the industry is refreshing, and it’s clear to see how small changes made by individual breweries can help to create real impact and drive new norms. Many breweries are focusing on more than great tasting beer, and are increasingly turning their attention to also giving back – both to the environment and society – to create business benefits and also to differentiate themselves from competitors.
An industry which is so reliant on natural resources has woken up to the fact that climate change and finite resources signal increased risks to breweries and the industry as a whole. As Bell’s Brewery in Michigan puts it “sustainability is the capacity for our business to thrive in future generations through the practices of environmental stewardship, economic robustness and social integrity.” There are many sustainability lessons to be learnt from one of the oldest industries in the world, and we can only hope that we see other industries follow suit and begin to compete on their genuine sustainability credentials and race to become responsible, future-proof businesses.