How to brew a greener beer
From start to finish, making alcoholic beverages asks a lot from the environment. It takes about 20 gallons of water to produce a single eight-ounce serving of beer and 30 gallons per five-ounce serving of wine. Then there’s the glass and aluminum production for alcohol containers, the plastic and cardboard for packaging, and energy consumption for home and retail refrigeration. Many types of alcohol are only made in one or a few places—tequila in Mexico, scotch in Scotland, bourbon in Kentucky—requiring long-distance transportation to reach consumers.
The most common ingredients in alcohol production—grapes, wheat, barley, hops, sugar—are some of the most water- and energy-intensive crops on the planet. Brewing and fermenting also require huge amounts of energy. While specific estimates of the alcoholic beverage industry’s carbon footprint are not available, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says the wider food and beverage industry is one of the most unsustainable in the world, contributing to an estimated 60 percent of biodiversity loss and 30 percent of emissions-driven climate change worldwide. Alcohol makes up about 16 percent of the U.S. beverage industry by volume, according to Park Street, a Florida-based firm that provides logistical support to alcohol companies.
As climate change closes in, affecting every part of beverage producing, from agriculture to trucking, could these long-enduring practices spell an end to cheap beer on tap? Not necessarily; help is on the way. Innovations and technologies are emerging to reduce the environmental footprint of the alcoholic beverage industry, while some large manufacturers are taking steps to make production more sustainable. Here are a few examples.
In 2010, after hiking to the top of a mountain in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Patrick Tatera really wanted a beer. Knowing that it’s about 95 percent water, Tatera, whose background is in chemical engineering and mathematics, started to ponder how he could dehydrate beer for easier transport and then rehydrate it when he was ready to drink it.