Sustainability, perhaps a buzz word for many, but more growers, winemakers, and breweries around the world are exploring best-practices to create products with true-expression of their terroir.
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Guest Post Sipping Sustainably. It is a great piece about the reality of the consumption of resources.
Green Breweries and Wineries
Americans consume 9.4 billion gallons of alcoholic beverages a year: 87 percent beer, 8 percent wine, and the rest spirits. The environmental impact of producing, packaging, and selling all those beverages could make an environmentalist reach for a drink. Breweries and wineries consume large quantities of water, raw materials, and other natural resources.But there’s good news: Green beer is no longer something people drink just on Saint Patrick’s Day. With the rise of the craft beer movement and growing consumer interest in local and sustainable food, more breweries and wineries are working to reduce the beverage industry’s environmental footprint. As a result, it’s easier to stock the home bar with sustainable, organic brews.
Moving Toward Sustainability
Sustainability is a buzzword these days, but what does it really mean? Ideally, it indicates a company uses resources in non-depleting ways while fostering the health of the company, workers, planet, and future generations. No beer and wine companies are entirely sustainable—at the moment they all use more resources than they return—but many mitigate environmental damage in several key ways.
Slash water use
Beverage companies are particularly reliant on water, one of our most critical natural resources. Conscientious businesses work to be its responsible stewards. According to a 2008 report, viticulturists on California’s North Coast use an average of 75 gallons of water to grow the grapes for just one gallon of wine, and in the state’s drier Central Valley, they use 430 gallons of water per gallon. Turning the grapes into wine uses six more gallons of water. To reduce that footprint, many wineries have installed low-flow nozzles and filtration systems, and reuse gray water from the production process. A minority employ dry farming, which means growing grapes without irrigation, a practice that can save millions of gallons of water a year. A gallon of beer requires five to 10 gallons of water to produce. Craft brewers are leading a movement to reduce that ratio (Oregon’s Full Sail Brewery boasts a 2.5 to 1 ratio) and even the world’s largest brewers, including Anheuser Busch, MillerCoors, and Heineken, are cutting water usage.
From heating water vats and refrigerating beverages to lighting tasting rooms, the mass production of beverages is energy intensive. Eco-minded companies make their systems more efficient, install solar panels and solar hot water heaters, and utilize technologies such as fuel cells, geothermal heating, and carbon dioxide reclamation.
Manage waste streams
The majority of waste in the brewing process is spent grain. Breweries have a long history of passing spent grain on to farmers to feed cattle, chickens, pigs, and other livestock. Some are coming up with other innovative ways to use leftover grains, including making bread and composting. One brewery developed a biomass steam boiler that allows them to power brewery operations with spent grain. Conscientious vintners recycle pomace—spent grape seeds, pulp, and skins—in the winemaking process, compost it, or sell it to manufacturers of grape fruit oil, cream of tartar, or spirits. Many beer and wine companies have installed on-site wastewater treatment plants and/or reuse cardboard, pallets, and other packaging waste.
Beer and wine are agricultural products, so to make a sustainable beverage, the ingredients must be grown in ways that contribute to the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and workers. Unfortunately so far organic beer and wine have constituted a small share of the beverage industry. Brewers cite the expense and shortage of organic hops and barley. And wine consumers have equated organic with low quality. But that seems to be changing. According to a recent study, the organic beer and wine market is expected to grow at a rate of 24.5 percent from 2013 to 2019.
Source local ingredients
Wineries have a long history of growing grapes on site. Now a farm-to-pint movement is making waves in the craft beer industry. From Oregon to New York, local economies are springing up around craft beer with a new crop of farmers at the base. By localizing supply chains, beverage companies cut down on the transport of raw ingredients—a large portion of most companies’ carbon footprint. They can also more easily reuse resources that would leave the facility—including water and packaging—in the production process. For instance, they can use gray water to irrigate fields.
It doesn’t get much greener than a reusable jug, so it’s promising The Wall Street Journal called the warm months of 2013 “the summer of the growler.” Sure enough, grocery, drug, and discount stores in many cities now sport growler stations stocked with local craft beer. Wine growlers are cropping up in some states as well. Many breweries and wineries sell beverages in bottles, cans, or boxes for wider distribution. The most sustainable of them use lightweight containers with high-recycled-materials content.
In 2011, University of California Davis opened a state-of-the-art center to research and share the best sustainability practices for breweries and wineries in the above areas. It will eventually house the country’s first self-sustaining winery, which will feature a rainwater collection system and will have a cutting-edge filtration and recirculation system as well as a system to sequester carbon dioxide. According to the university, it will be the most “environmentally sophisticated complex of its kind in the world.” But what does stepping toward sustainability look like for companies already involved in the day-to-day business of beverage making?
It’s always a good idea to choose the least packaging when possible. For beer, kegs or growlers are best, and cans may beat bottles. For wine, boxes are better than bottles, and magnums beat smaller bottles. Don’t forget to recycle those containers. And CEOs say consumer preference drives the trend toward more eco-friendly products, so let beer and wine companies know you’re thirsty for sustainable beverages.
How to Decipher Environmental Claims on a Wine Label
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