Sustainable Brewing. Part I: Introduction

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting about sustainability in the brewing process. Specifically, I will focus on water, energy, and solid waste, as these were the facets of sustainability I examined in my thesis. However, a lot of interesting things are happening in other areas of sustainability, including a genetically-modified yeast that replaces hop-derived aromas, as growing hops is an intensive process. (This article came out this morning, August 6, 2019. It is an awesome read, and I provide a link at end of this post.)

My write-ups will include real world examples of breweries engaging in sustainable practices that reduce the environmental impact of the brewing process. Today’s topic:

Intro to Sustainability

Once a consolidated market of few commercial brands exhibiting complete market control, the United States is now home to more than 7,300 breweries with more in planning stages (Brewers Association, 2019a). The beer industry is divided into three distinct categories: (i) commercial; (ii) import; and (iii) craft. Commercial beer, which will be interchangeably referred to as big beer and macro-beer, is mass produced. Big beer includes AB InBev, maker of beers such as Bud Light and Budweiser, and Miller-Coors, makers of Miller Lite and Coors Light. Imports are beers brewed in other countries and imported by the United States. Examples of imports include Heineken and Guinness. Breweries qualify as craft beer if annual production does not exceed six million barrels, have less than 25% ownership by a non-craft beer organization, and use traditional brewing ingredients (water, yeast, hops, and malt) (Brewers Association, 2019b).

Craft beer is divided into three categories: (i) regional craft breweries; (ii) brewpubs; and (iii) microbreweries. Brewers Association (2019a) defines a regional brewery as brewers producing between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels of beer annually. Brewpubs are restaurant-breweries with more than 25% of beer being sold on-premise. Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels annually and 75% or more of sales for consumption off-premise. Craft beer now accounts for nearly 13.2% of beer market volume and sales now account for 24% of U.S. annual sales (Brewers Association, 2019c). The craft segment has grown because of its appeal to a wider range of consumers due to the broad range of styles and flavors. However, these beers require a more intensive brewing process with more inputs per barrel than commercial beers (Brewers Association, 2016a).

Xie et al. (2018) suggest climate change will lead to global beer shortages as extreme weather events reduce the global supply of barley, a key input to beer as it is used as malt. Watson & Swersey (2018) respond, stating brewers have been preparing for future shortages and have voluntarily reduced their environmental impact by creating sustainability goals and investing in efficient technology. Indeed, both commercial and craft breweries are adopting sustainability measures involving water, energy, and waste reduction. For example, AB InBev, responsible for 45.8% of U.S. beer production and 28% globally (Statista, 2019a; Statista, 2019b), recently partnered with an Oklahoma wind farm, purchasing $435 million worth of renewable energy—enough to brew 20 billion 12-ounce beers annually (AB InBev, 2019; Enel Green Power, 2017). The brewery markets this investment by placing a label on each can and bottle stating the beer is brewed with “100% renewable electricity” (AB InBev, 2018). They have also been an early investor in Indigo Agriculture, a tech startup devoted to sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by incentivizing farmers to engage in regenerative agriculture. AB InBev purchased 2.2 million bushels of sustainable rice, which reduces “water and nitrogen used by 10% and achieve at least 10% savings in greenhouse gas emissions compared to state benchmarks’ (Indigo Agriculture, 2019).

Craft brewers have also engaged in sustainability practices, just not at the same scale as the largest brewer in the world. New Belgium Brewing Company, with breweries in both Fort Collins, Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina, is one of the most successful craft breweries in the United States in terms of production and sustainability. Their company webpage includes a “Sustainability” tab with sub-headers on water use, carbon emissions, and hops and barley (New Belgium Brewing Company, 2019a). Their sustainability initiative includes an internal energy tax to reduce fossil fuel use and save for carbon reducing technologies. Now, 18% of New Belgium Brewing Company’s electricity is produced through on-site solar and biogas (New Belgium Brewing Company, 2019b). Other regional brewers, such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Bell’s Brewing Company, have invested in technology to promote different sustainability measures, including recycling and composting to achieve a 99.8% landfill diversion rate (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, 2019) and a bio-energy building that converts more than 100,000 gallons of wastewater into renewable energy each day (Bell’s Brewing Company, 2019).

Although these technologies require high upfront costs to the regional breweries, the hope is that the investment will pay for itself in the long run. These technologies may be infeasible for microbreweries due to the high upfront cost, lower production, and tighter profit margins, but the Brewers Association has created manuals of best brewing practices that all breweries, regardless of size or location, can apply (Brewers Association, 2019d).

Note, that there are countless breweries engaging in some form of sustainable brewing. These are just a few examples from some of the most well known breweries across the country. This is just Part 1 of a series on Sustainability in Brewing. Up next: Water and Wastewater.

GM Yeast Article mentioned previous:


AB InBev. (2018b, July 26). Budweiser Believes in a Brighter Future for All. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from Sustainability website:

AB InBev. (2018a). Shaping the future. (pp. 1–60). Retrieved from AB InBev website:

Bell’s Brewing Company. (2019). More Than Caring for the Earth. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from Sustainability website:

Brewers Association. (2019a). Craft Beer Industry Market Segments. Retrieved August 8, 2018, from

Brewers Association. (2019b). Craft Brewer Defined. Retrieved August 8, 2018, from Brewers Association website:

Brewers Association. (2019c). National Beer Sales & Production Data. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from Brewers Association website:

Brewers Association. (2016a). 2016 Sustainability Benchmarking Update (pp. 1–20).

Enel Green Power. (2017, September 13). Anheuser-Busch and Enel Green Power Announce Renewable Energy Partnership. Retrieved May 28, 2019, from Enel website:

Indigo Agriculture. (2019). Indigo Agriculture and Anheuser-Busch Partner to Meet Sustainability Goals for Rice Production. Indigo Agriculture. Retrieved Aug 6, 2019, from Indigo Agriculture website:

New Belgium Brewing Company. (2019a). Living Our Values Every Day. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

New Belgium Brewing Company. (2019b). We’re New Belgium and We Pollute. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. (2019). Recycling. Retrieved October 8, 2018, from Sierra Nevada Mills River Sustainability website:

Statista. (2019a). Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) – Statistics & Facts. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Statista website:

Statista. (2019b). Global Market Share of the Leading Beer Companies in 2016, Based on Volume Sales. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from Statista website:

Watson, B., & Swersey, C. (2018, October 16). Evolving Beer’s Supply Chain in an Era of Climate Change. Retrieved October 16, 2018, from Brewers Association website:

Xie, W., Xiong, W., Ali, T., Cui, Q., Guan, D., Meng, J., … Davis, S. J. (2018). Decreases in Global Beer Supply Due to Extreme Drought and Heat. Nature Plants, 4(11), 964–973.

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