Drink Local, Save the World

When it comes to hops, there's no place like home.

In Boulder, there’s no shortage of local breweries. It seems every street corner is bedecked with gleaming silos that waft the distinct perfume of fermenting hops. With such a wealth of options from Sanitas, Boulder Beer, Upslope, Mountain Sun and more, there's plenty of good reasons to drink local.


The most compelling reason, besides local pride, could be the environment.


Brewing is not a carbon neutral operation. While the emissions created in the brewing process pale in comparison with that of fossil fuel activity, it is enough cause for beer locavores to clink glasses in celebration.


An in-depth analysis by New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado in collaboration with the Climate Conservancy, a greenhouse gas impact auditing firm from California, reveals what parts of the brewing, distribution and retail process emit the most greenhouse gasses (GHG's).  This cradle-to-grave report doesn't skimp on details, even factoring in GHG's emitted by employee commuting (12.7 grams of CO2 per 6-pack, or approximately .4 percent of GHG's emitted in the production of one six-pack of beer).


While it is predictable that the process that produces a carbonated beverage would intrinsically produce carbon emissions as a byproduct, the bulk of GHG emissions don't originate from the brewing process itself, but rather from retail and distribution. In fact, the carbon used in the brewing process only accounts for 2.3 percent of total GHG emissions involved in the process.


The single largest line-item accounted for in the study was refrigeration at retail, which produces 829.8 grams CO2, or 26 percent of the carbon emitted in the entire journey from hop to home. While refrigeration is the most carbon-intensive step in the process, another 2.1 percent of the total carbon emissions produced are emitted by other various retail activities such as lighting in store displays.


The second largest source of carbon emissions is glass. Though many craft brew aficionados prefer long necks to their aluminum counterparts, glass production is carbon-intensive, accounting for 690 g CO2, or 21.6 percent of the carbon emitted per six pack. Glass production requires an immense amount of heat which in turn emits a large amount of carbon.  Even using 10 percent recycled materials, as per industry standard, in the production of glass beer bottles accounts for a large portion of the carbon emissions required to make beer.



Avery Brewing Company, based in Boulder, is also interested in reducing their carbon footprint even as they expand in the craft brew market. Avery has installed a carbon reactor system installed that captures the C02 produced during fermentation.  A Carbon Cycle reactor  splits sodium nitrate, a common salt, into nitric acid and sodium hydroxide. The sodium hydroxide is then used to capture and convert CO2 into soda ash, which is used by area glass companies to manufacture beer bottles. This not only prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere, but it limits carbon required in glass manufacture, making the process carbon negative. Though emissions produced during the fermentation are much less than those required to sell and bottle beer, any effort to capture and repurpose carbon shrinks Avery's footprint.


“We’re really excited about this new technology. Not only does it lower the cost of production, but it’s good for the environment. Good for the world, and good for business,” said Dan Driscoll, a scientist at Avery Brewing Company.


While there are many factors that contribute to the carbon cost of beer, the largest are the transportation and refrigeration required at off-plant retail.


So, what's an eco-conscious beer lover to do?


Drink local, directly from the brewery.