OPINION: Can beer save the planet? Probably not, but brewers are helping lead the way

//OPINION: Can beer save the planet? Probably not, but brewers are helping lead the way

OPINION: Can beer save the planet? Probably not, but brewers are helping lead the way

By Sarah Fraser, GUEST COLUMNIST Published 7:03 a.m. ET April 1, 2018

Reinheitsgebot, the famous German purity law, dictates that beer must be made only from four ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. Craft brewers in the U.S. and elsewhere have been far more willing to play with ingredients as far-out as lemongrass in our saisons, coconuts in our stouts, and spruce tree clippings in our IPAs. But a commitment to the quality and purity of ingredients is widely shared by all brewers striving to make great beer.

Brewing beer is inextricably linked to the farmlands that source our grains and to the rivers that give us the clean water that make up 90 percent of our beer. Because of that connection to earth, wind and water, as brewers we have put ourselves on the forefront by adopting sustainable business practices, and joining the larger environmental movement aimed at curtailing pollution and halting climate change.

Here in Western North Carolina, members of the Asheville Brewers Alliance have made aggressive water conservation, energy efficiency, waste management and recycling central to the way we do business. Many of our mountain brewers have streamlined our operations and invested in the latest technologies to achieve real savings. These efforts have helped reduce our water usage, trim our carbon footprint and save room in the landfill by giving spent grain to local livestock farmers.

It’s not just the bigger national brewers like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada who are making big investments in the future. Walk into regional breweries like Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone, Highland Brewing Company or Green Man Brewery in Asheville, and Innovation Brewing in Sylva and you will meet business owners who are installing solar panels on their roofs, upgrading their light bulbs and brewing equipment, routing their water from their boilers to heat their offices, recycling everything possible, and constantly and meticulously honing their business practices.

While it’s been suggested that craft brewers are a self-selecting group of idealists, our sustainable practices are also about good business sense. We’re not just by marketing feel-good brews to the already converted hophead. By using natural resources and energy more efficiently throughout our entire process we’re saving pennies, nickels and dimes, which all add up to smarter business. Because craft brewers are much more likely to be independently owned, we’re able to look beyond the annual profit-loss statement and make business decisions that are in the long-term interests of both our businesses and our planet.

Locally, that means supporting community partners like MountainTrue, Riverlink and Asheville Greenworks who are hard at work keeping our water clean and delicious, and land trusts like Conserving Carolina and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy that help keep our mountains forested and beautiful for the hundreds of thousands of people who come to visit our tasting rooms and brewpubs every year.

Globally, the single biggest issue affecting the planet, and by extension our ability to do business on it, is our changing climate. For brewers and others in the food and beverage industry, a warming planet threatens our food supply and our ability to source the ingredients we need to make our products. For farmers, climate change brings fears of more frequent drought, and new pests and blights to their crops. And what worries farmers should worry us all. A study by the Brookings Institute has shown that rising food commodity prices have a profound impact on the wider U.S. economy, leading to inflation, a reduction in real GDP and less consumption. This is bad for all business owners, workers and the customers we serve. And, more broadly, it leads to more human suffering.

We are lucky to have clean, abundant water in Western North Carolina that allows us to make great beer and support our community by creating good jobs. As brewers we try to model good, sustainable business practices. However, we also know that we need to do more and that we can’t do nearly enough on our own. We need other businesses to join the cause.

Here are a few things you can do now:

Go to wncfortheplanet.org/corporate-competition, roll up your sleeves and partner with a local organization to clean up our rivers, repair local trails, restore native plant habitats, weatherize a home or tend to a community garden. Through this good-hearted competition, local businesses form teams and compete for “Planet Points” to win awards and prizes.

Though the Blue Horizons project, Buncombe County businesses and individuals can find out how to reduce their carbon footprint, save money on electricity bills and help avoid the construction of unnecessary natural gas infrastructure. Sign up for a free energy audit and rebate programs at bluehorizonsproject.com

Ask your congressman to pass meaningful climate legislation that puts a fee on carbon such as the Carbon Fee and Dividend solution proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby or the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act.

When you’re ready to do more, look at your business operation and ask yourself, “Where can I save a penny or a nickel or a dime and also help the planet?” Start small and invest in our shared future as you grow.

Sarah Fraser is the Sustainability Specialist at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville.

Editor’s note: The Asheville Citizen Times is the proud media partner of #WNCforthePlanet – a collective of local environmental organizations, community groups and businesses coming together through workdays, service projects and educational events throughout the month of April. Celebrate environmental stewardship for our planet and the region by getting involved at WNCforthePlanet.org