Green Beer

Green Beer

By Kristin Evenrud, Grocery Manager

You most likely drink a certain beer because of the way it tastes, or perhaps you try something new because of the name or the flashy label.  However, it pays to open the curtain to look behind the scenes.  The brewing industry is not necessarily an environmentally friendly one.  There is a lot of leftover waste product (hops, grains, etc.) as well as water, electricity, fossil fuels and other natural resources used during the brewing process.  Specifically, let’s not forget the amount of glass that is used by this industry.  What does one do with all that glass, especially in areas where recycling brown or colored glass is difficult at best, like here in Decorah?

While enjoying a cool I.P.A. brew the other night, I thought a little about where my beer came from.  I could see on the label it was St. Paul, Minnesota, and it was nice to know the brew was produced regionally.  But beyond that I didn’t know much about the company.  So here’s the lineup of companies striding toward a more sustainable product in the beer industry.  There are surely more categories of importance, but for the sake of space I chose to focus on: alternative energy, energy consumption, water usage, and recycling.  Drink up!

Alternative Energy

New Belgium Brewery:  In 2010 they erected a 200KW photovoltaic array on top of the Packaging Hall, producing 264,000 KWH each year contributing over 3% of the total electricity

Sierra Nevada Brewery: In 2008 they completed construction of one of the largest private solar arrays in the U.S.  In 2010 the solar array produced 2,635,869 kWh, or 19% of their total electricity needs.

Boulevard Brewery:  Utilizes natural sunlight in all of their facilities as the primary source of lighting.


New Belgium Brewery:  On-site Process Water Treatment Plant closed loop system that can produce 15% of their electrical needs.  Recover water from first inside rinse of bottles for the second outside rinse of bottles.

Sierra Nevada Brewery:   Installed a European-designed, two-step anaerobic and aerobic treatment plant that reprocesses and purifies all of the water produced from their brewing operations.   The methane generated from the anaerobic digestion of the wastewater is captured and used to fuel their boilers.

Summit Brewery:  Recover water from first inside rinse of bottles for the second outside rinse of bottles, saving 2.7 million gallons of water annually.

Boulavard Brewery:  Recover water from first inside rinse of bottles for the second outside rinse of bottles.

Energy Efficiency

New Belgium Brewery:   Employees opt to pay 2.5 cents more per kilowatt hour to the Fort Collins Wind Program.  In 1999 they were able to generate 100% of electricity from wind power.  They have a proposed goal to reduce Green House Gas emissions by 25% per barrel by 2015 from 2006 levels.

Sierra Nevada Brewery:  Installed four 250-kilowatt co-generation fuel cell power units to supply electric power and heat to the brewery.   The overall energy efficiency of the installation is double that of grid-supplied power and air emissions are significantly reduced. Surplus electrical energy will be sold back into the power grid.  One of the first regional breweries to install a vapor condenser to recover waste steam from the kettle boiling step to preheat process water.

Summit Brewery:  In the winter they use ambient outdoor air to cool the glycol that keeps the fermenting tanks cold, chills the process water, chills the yeast tanks and chills the beer on the way to the filter.  In the summer months they recycle the cold from the glycol to air condition the packaging area.  Starting a heat recovery project that will divert heat from their brewhouse to the Ratskeller in winter to reduce natural gas usage by 6,000 therms. It will also divert heat outside in summer to help keep the Ratskeller cool while reducing electricity usage by 200,000 KWH annually.  All light fixtures in production areas are high efficiency fluorescents.

Boulevard Brewery:  The green roof (literally green-they planted flowers and plants) on their new brewhouse and packaging building reduces their heating and air conditioning loads (lowering their energy consumption) by increasing the insulation value where it is needed most—on the roof. The surface also absorbs rainwater, thus reducing runoff, while sustaining a variety of plant life. The plants, in turn, reduce the overall thermal footprint of the building, absorb CO2, and produce oxygen, all positively impacting the quality of life in the surrounding area.   In 2007 they switched to all hybrid cars for their local sales staff.


New Belgium Brewery:  BBRP (Brown Bottle Recycling Program) is a bicycle pick up of brown bottles from bars and restaurants, resulting in 1,500 pounds of glass picked up weekly.  Since 2009, New Belgium recycled 99.9% of its waste.  It is important to note that this figure includes Spent Grain (which includes Spent Yeast and Spent Diatomateous Earth) and Sludge.

Sierra Nevada Brewery:  Comprehensive waste diversion program diverts 99.6% of the solid waste leaving their facility from the landfill.  One hundred percent of the spent grain and yeast is recovered and used as a protein rich supplement for cattle and dairy lots within 50 miles of the brewery.

Summit Brewery:  Implemented a program that prevents over 200,000 pounds of waste from going to landfills each year. This company takes all of the spent grain, protein, yeast and other sediment from our brewing and filtration processes and turns them into ingredients for non-corn based poultry and swine feed.

Boulevard Brewery:  Implemented the Ripple Glass project – a recycling program for Kansas City. 6- and 12-packs are produced using 70% post-consumer recycled paper, and both are 100%      recyclable.  Based on their current volume, Boulevard’s commitment to using recycled corrugated saves 187 trees, 77,000 gallons of water, 27.5 cubic yards of landfill space, and 33,000 kwh of energy, every month.   The brewery is currently engaged in plans to become a zero-landfill facility by early 2011.

These breweries are making strides, small and large, toward sustainability and a better environment.  Not to mention they make pretty excellent craft beers.  I encourage you to look at whatever beer you are fond of quaffing in a new light and dig a little deeper to find out what the company behind that can or bottle really stands for.

New Belgium Brewing
Fort Collins, Colorado
Summit Brewery
St. Paul, MN
Sierra Nevada
Chico, CA
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Kansas City, Missouri