US breweries tackle climate change by keeping operations local

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

Breweries have to make the decision to care about sustainability on their own, and then support their operations with green solutions. Pic: Getty/zozzzzo
Breweries have to make the decision to care about sustainability on their own, and then support their operations with green solutions. Pic: Getty/zozzzzo

Related tags: Beer, Craft beer, Craft brewers, Sustainability, Brewers association

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in Ohio has been setting a sustainability precedent for independent craft beer brands. Managing waste through composting has been their biggest success and advice to their fellow brewers.

A community approach has been key to Wolf’s Ridge, crafting their beers with the help of their neighbors. The Columbus-based company operates their brewery, taproom, dining room and private event space all with an environmentally friendly edge.

Erika Roth, sustainability ambassador at Wolf’s Ridge, told BeverageDaily about the sustainability practices Wolf’s Ridge prioritizes, and how they can be applied to other breweries. She’s worked several positions at Wolf’s Ridge and started taking note of the environmental effects of operations.

Tracking and auditing waste

Significant food waste, inefficient energy sourcing and plastic use all worried Roth, but the worst offender has been Wolf’s Ridge’s annual anniversary party that helps support the brewery, but negatively impacts the environment every year.

Roth said she looked to the Brewers Association (BA) and the Ohio Craft Brewers Association for guidance, and has since overhauled the brewery’s practices. She said it’s common for foodservice venues to waste large amounts of food that end up in landfills.

Wolf’s Ridge was throwing away up to one thousand pounds of food per week that couldn’t be donated, and found that composting was the best solution for them. Roth said that waste management is where the journey starts for most breweries.

Spent grain is the main by-product of brewing, and running an average brewery can result in thousands of pounds of it every week. Wolf’s Ridge developed a relationship with a local farmer to haul away their scent grain waste for cattle feed, rather than paying to have it removed.

Their culinary team now approaches the food menu with a ‘waste nothing’ goal, utilizing ingredient parts that would have previously been thrown away. Wolf’s Ridge is in the process of waste audit inspections, which gives them tangible solutions to lessen their impact.

More abstract problems come from upgrading energy. Roth recommends to start tracking energy usage and finding the baseline, particularly looking to the BA’s online data entry tracking tool for guidance.

Energy audits take it even deeper, allowing engineers to come in and observe a brewery’s process. They can give feedback for energy efficient practices and cost savings.

“I think energy production is going to be a really big thing in 2020, and looking at how we’re sourcing our energy,”​ she said.

Putting in the effort

Roth noted that it’s crucial to keep up-to-date on state regulations and aware of offered resources. in Ohio, she said that glass recycling is becoming more difficult, leading Wolf’s Ridge to switch their beer packaging from glass bottles to aluminum cans.

Ohio is also seeing a boom in the malt industry, and Wolf’s Ridge has an all-local beer to support the industry. Heartlandia is described as an all-Ohio lager that uses hops and grain only grown in-state. Roth encourages similar creative solutions to keep breweries green.

Important questions to consider include, how is the business directly impacting the community, on both a small and large scale? How is water usage affecting local ecosystem? Is business transportation green? Are employees incentivized to ride bikes or use public transport?

“For businesses overall including breweries, it depends on what kind of effort there is within the organization,”​ Roth said.

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