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How green is your beer?

April 28, 2022

Just how green is your beer? WA beer journalist (and talented photographer) Jono Outred gives us an insight into the moves to make beer sustainable.

In the modern world, most agree that greener is better.

But just how green is your beer?

In the ever-evolving land of beer, that question is increasingly being bandied around as brewers, entirely aware that there is an environmental cost to brewing beer, are looking towards a future focused on lower emissions and a lower environmental impact.

Some of the loudest voices asking the question are the craft brewers, who can see that sustainable and environmentally conscious practices are at the fore for many consumers seeking out a more considered product. For these small and medium brewers, there are a host of initiatives available to promote sustainable ethos, which can, in turn, be used to create visibility around a brewery's green efforts.

However, some breweries in the craft community are changing the typical brewery model entirely. For example, look at ACT's Capital Brewing (Fyshwick) and WA's Rocky Ridge Brewing Co (Jindong), which have recently received certified carbon neutral status. The former is the first brewery to do so under the Federal Government's Climate Active certification, while Rocky Ridge is inching closer to a carbon-negative status and is the poster child for sustainable brewing in WA with their Greener Pastures programme.

In both cases, becoming and maintaining certified carbon neutral is intensive and delves deep into the business's operations, from wastewater, packaging use, fuel consumption (gas, electricity etc.) and tracking of logistics, transport and even staff travel. These efforts go far beyond marketing and gimmicks, signifying a serious commitment to the cause.

Hamish Coates, owner of Rocky Ridge, explains more:

'Our focus is on local and fresh, with a huge bias towards Australian-owned and grown. We believe in making a difference, one beer at a time and firmly believe it is the responsibility of all businesses and industries, big or small, to lead when it comes to ensuring there is a better tomorrow- for everyone.'

That's echoed in the Capital Brewing outlook, where the aim is to reduce their footprint through 'continual practice and process improvement' to reach zero emissions', believing that 'complete [carbon neutral] certification allows you to drink ice-cold Good-Natured Brews in the knowledge that you are not contributing to global warming.'

But carbon neutral isn't the full stop for 'green brewing'. Many of Australia's craft brewers are implementing processes and ideologies to reduce their impact where they can. Where carbon neutral status can be time, cost and resource-prohibitive, brewers are finding innovative ways to operate in a greener frame of mind. Things like solar energy and rainwater collection and use are becoming so commonplace they almost don't warrant discussion anymore. It's just the done thing.

Look at breweries like Sydney's Young Henrys, which has implemented CO2-reducing algae bioreactors to clean up CO2 produced by brewing. Or WA's Beerfarm, which has long implemented a reduced waste ethos by feeding spent grain to their herd of cattle (ultimately ending up on Beerfarm diners' plates) and by utilising otherwise rejected fruits from local farmers to flavour their beers. However, Queensland's Helios Brewing has taken its solar to another level and installed a solar thermal system that heats brewing water to 90 degrees Celsius without using fossil fuels.

It's clear that craft brewers are behind a move towards more sustainable practices, but how about big breweries? Asahi, owner of Carlton & United Breweries in Australia, has a massive portfolio that spans both commercial - Carlton, Fosters, VB – and 'craft' brands like Pirate Life, Balter, Mountain Goat. They, too, have a target of net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and a goal of 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025.

Asahi certainly has the resources at the ready to contribute to a greener brewing future and it shows, with measures including eliminating plastic six-pack holders across their portfolio, installing 7000 solar panels at their giant Yatala Brewery Plant (pictured below), and constructing a world-class recycling facility in Albury-Wodonga that will see the equivalent of around 1 billion PET plastic bottles recycled each year.

There's still uncertainty around how far these initiatives go for such a massive conglomerate, but Asahi's environmental initiatives prove that 'going green' is at the front of mind for the multi-national corporation. They understand that consumers are demanding change and voting with their wallets.

We've also witnessed change outside of actual brewing across the distribution, packaging, and logistics segments. Recyclable and reusable kegs, biodegradable six/four-pack holders, and many breweries switching to cans - lighter, easier to stack, and more effectively recycled- are just a few seemingly simple but entirely effective examples of initiatives that breweries can control through the supply chain.

From raw materials – imported grain or locally grown – through to distribution and bottleshop shelves, brewers have as much control over the environmental impact of their operation. Of course, making long term change and prioritising the environment over profits or growth is easier said than done. But, whether it's marketing fluff or authentic climate action, what's certain is that craft and commercial brewers are thoroughly in the midst of a green revolution shaping up across the industry.

Those who were once trailblazers and outliers are now setting the standard for the rest of the industry. In time, greener initiatives will become far more accessible and less cost-prohibitive for breweries of all shapes and sizes.

There is no doubt that the future is green, whether beer drinkers and producers like it.

Jono's relationship with beer began in 2011 with a passion for homebrew. Experiences in brewing, craft retail and beer blogging have led to contributing to WA's thriving craft beer scene as a beer journalist and commentator.