5 Eco-Friendly Craft Breweries Doing The Right Thing.

August 17, 2010

Human beings love their beer. People all over the world drink well over 100 billion liters of the stuff each year, and I am most certainly one of them that drinks his fill. But did you know that besides the quality that craft breweries exemplify in their beer, many of these smaller breweries are doing the right thing when it comes to environmental sustainability as well? Between installing wind and/or solar power, heat exchangers, and massive recycling programs, these breweries are showing the big brew houses that you can in fact have happy employees, make a quality product, and have a solid profit, all with much less impact on the environment. Let’s take a look at a few…

New Belgium

Located in Fort Collins, CO, right up the road from me, New Belgium may just be the pinnacle of eco-friendly beer brewing. In 1999, New Belgium became the largest private consumer of wind-powered electricity, and is an employee-owned business that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, adhering to the following creeds:

1. Lovingly care for the planet that sustains us.
2. Honor natural resources by closing the loops between waste and input.
3. Minimize the environmental impact of shipping our beer.
4. Reduce our dependence on coal-fired electricity.
5. Protect our precious Rocky Mountain water resources.
6. Focus our efforts on conservation and efficiency.
7. Support innovative technology.
8. Model joyful environmentalism through our commitment to relationships, continuous improvement, and the camaraderie and cheer of beer

They take full advantage of the more than 360 days of sunshine in Fort Collins by using UV blocking windows, sun-tubes, and light shelves; they use evaporative coolers, which condition their 55,000 square foot packaging hall with no compressors; and at their public events like their philanthropic bike festival, Tour de Fat, New Belgium celebrates bicycling as a viable form of alternative transport while a solar-powered stage provides sound for the day.

Brooklyn Brewery

Located in, well, Brooklyn, Brooklyn Brewery use wind power to get 100% of the electricity, making them the first New York City company to switch to 100% renewable energy. This saves the atmosphere from 335,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 1,500 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 500 pounds of nitrogen oxide that would otherwise be emitted. They also pay local farmers to pick up all their spent grain, the husks that are left over after brewing, that they can feed to their livestock.

Odell Brewing Company

Also located in Fort Collins, Odells just recently added a 76.8 kilowatt solar array atop the roof of a building expansion which will provide over 39% of their energy needs. They use a daylighting system in the warehouse which turns off the lights and illuminates the space entirely by natural light during the day, and they divert 98% of their waste from the landfill. All six pack holders are made from recycled paper (every brewery should be doing this, it’s kind of a no-brainer), and they only distribute “locally” to Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, and Arizona.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

In 2008, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. completed construction on a solar project that produces over 1.4 MW of power for the brewery. Coupled with its existing 1.2 MW fuel cell plant, these energy sources provide the majority of the brewery’s electrical energy. In addition, any surplus energy is available to help supply the overloaded California power grid during peak power usage periods. Nicely done, guys! They divert 98.2% of their waste from the landfill and use spent vegetable oil from the Taproom and Restaurant to make the biodiesel
used in their long haul and local route trucks.

Steam Whistle Brewing

Steam Whistle uses only four, all natural ingredients (pure spring water, malted barley, hops and yeast), all GMO-free, to make their beer. (I gotta try some of this) They use clean, renewable power for their electricity, sourcing power from wind and low-impact hydro generators; they fuel their delivery trucks with B20 Bio Fuel; and since the year 2000, they have opted to use Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling for climate control in the building instead of conventional air conditioners. This process draws icy cold water through intake pipes deep in Lake Ontario and moves it through the facilities giving off chill (prior to it traveling to Toronto household taps) and helps provide a comfortable working environment during the summer.

While a few of the big beer companies are trying to “go green”, most of them have a long way to go to significantly reduce their environmental footprint. Coors, for example, does a few things such as selling 1.5 million gallons of ethanol (a byproduct of brewing beer) to Colorado refineries where it is turned into fuel and attempting to use less materials in their packaging, but they have a long way to go to catch up to these eco-friendly craft breweries. The good news is that the more we support small, local companies that are doing the right thing, the more we will see these changes take place on a much bigger scale at places like Coors. (However, I will always prefer a solid craft beer over one from a conglomerate!)

So – do you have a favorite brewery that is doing the right thing? Let us know in the comments so we can check them out too!

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Comments (26)

  1. David says:

    Yea, me too – Gotta see if I can find it.

  2. nan fischer says:

    Hmmmm…. never heard of Steam Whistle. Will have to look for it. I’m a Fat Tire fan, big time.

  3. nan fischer says:

    Do you know if it comes in a bottle?

  4. Joe says:

    Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego! They have one of the largest solar arrays in California. They also use bio diesel in their fleet and their restaurant is one of the largest sourcers of local food in San Diego County.


  5. Karen says:

    Been enjoying New Belgium for around ten years. The hubs and I are home brewers as well.

    We live in the greater Seattle area and there a lot of Micro brewers here. I do know some of them are green. Will have to check in to for more detail.

    Great article!

  6. Bill Gerlach says:

    One more to add to your list: Just Beer Brewery out of Westport, MA. This one is in my neck of the woods and it’s just great.


  7. So glad to see some of the beer companies I prefer on your list, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada.

    Minnesota is nearby so I will look for those the next time I am there.

    Great article.


  8. Sean Williams says:

    Cleveland’s Great Lakes is a pioneer in this space: http://www.greatlakesbrewing.com/sustainability/triple-bottom-line

  9. jeff says:

    I came here to add Great Lakes from Cleveland. It’s great beer, but they have a whole philosophy that incorporates good environmental practices into their process. And it’s truly great beer!

  10. LaLe Princey says:

    A great article and I love seeing beer companies get credit for the good work they do. However it seems like there are a few glaring omissions from this list. Namely, Hopworks Urban Brewery & Bison Brewing–both carbon-neutral.

    Yes, you’ve chosen to highlight breweries that have a heads-up approach to minimizing their negative environmental impact. And yes, I believe that these breweries should get due credit but, given their large production volume and emphasis on bottle distribution, it should be an explicit expectation that they will take strides to reduce their inherently larger carbon footprint.

    I invite you to look at some other trend-setting breweries that are taking similar steps and even going beyond. I especially encourage you to examine breweries that have incorporated responsible stewardship into their business models from day one… Solar panels and massive physical upgrades are great but a huge investment for smaller brewery.

    Locally sourced ingredients, a preference for cans over bottles, grey-water collection, incentivizing cycling customers, supporting non-profits, purchasing off-sets, rehabilitating neglected spaces, hosting community events, these are all measures breweries are taking to attain “sustainability nirvana” of meeting a triple bottom line. (Or, put another way, the three E’s of efficiency, environment, and equity.)

    On the super-positive side, we’re blessed with so many delicious breweries that practice business with a heart. With so so many breweries blending environmentally and socially responsible measures into their brew recipes, sustainability has become an industry standard. For this we can all hoist a pint.

    Could it be love for the planet that makes your favorite beer so irresistible?


    • david says:

      Thanks for the information, appreciate it. However, I have to tell you that cans over bottles isn’t necessarily a good thing – the BPA lining in aluminum cans is incredibly bad for you and the environment.

  11. david says:

    @nan. steamwhistle does indeed come in bottle. a really tasty pilsner it is.

  12. nan fischer says:

    Thanks! Loves me a good pilsner. Mmmmm…..

  13. Brad says:

    Check out Central Waters in Wisconsin!


  14. John says:

    Pisgah Brewery in Black Mountain, NC…

  15. Lexfor says:

    You should check out Full Sail, based in Hood River, OR. They do a lot of eco friendly brewing.

  16. Mary Alice Trumble says:

    St. Arnold’s Brewery in Houston!

  17. Joe says:

    Also, check out Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, NC.


  18. DeMarie says:

    Here’s a (young) man that built 3 local breweries and then opened this great sustainable, LEED certified restaurant in Michigan. It’s my favorite place to eat! And they buy produce from my CSA too!


  19. Roben says:

    Love your list! To add: Steamwhistle came in bottles first and uses a thicker glass so they can be re-used more than regular beer bottles, and they also paint their logo on the bottle to avoid the scum and waste of a paper label in the washing process. They provide samples in glass at the brewery (on their hourly tours open to the public) and for home events provide biodegradable disposable pint glasses. The list of good they do is very, very long AND they make a damn fine beer.
    We loves Steamwhistle. :-)

  20. Zano says:

    New Belgium and Odell are not only making beer responsibly, but are producing some of the best beer I’ve ever tasted, in the best state I’ve ever visited.

  21. Tamal Krishna Chandra says:

    I also want to ask you the same question. Do you know if it comes in a bottle?

  22. John says:

    Within the last year, Northampton Brewery in Northampton, MA updated their building to make them more green. Great beer and great for the environment.