May 30, 2017
Beer and the environment are two of Portland’s great loves, making it an ideal place to produce carbon-conscious beer. That’s exactly what I do at Widmer Brothers Brewing, the largest craft brewery in Oregon. At Widmer Brothers, we’re committed to being a leader in sustainability and showing others in our industry what can be done to reduce environmental impact. Brewing beer is both very energy and water intensive, making our commitment not just an aspirational goal, but a responsibility.
I’m the Corporate Sustainability Manager here at Widmer Brothers Brewing. I focus most of my time on identifying areas where we can meaningfully lower our environmental impact. Having a full-time position like mine ensures that we’re able to focus on and make progress toward reaching real sustainability goals. Our main sustainability goals are around lowering our carbon emissions, working towards zero waste and supporting important causes -- like the Renew Oregon coalition -- that improve the communities where we live, work, and play. We’ve nearly met our zero waste goal; in 2016, we sent 13,000 tons of spent grain to local farms, diverting 99.5% of our total waste from landfills.
Our commitment to sustainability goes far beyond the four walls of our brewery. We recently performed the first lifecycle analysis on one of our bottles of beer, which tells us how much carbon emissions are generated from barley to bottle. We also created a sustainability scorecard for our major suppliers to help identify what they’re doing well, and what steps we can take together to do better. We consider our suppliers to be great partners in this effort; from utilizing drip irrigation, which saves water, to pursuing Salmon-Safe certification on the farms we buy from, our suppliers are already conscious of their impact and taking steps to lessen it.
I love my job because it’s a win-win: making beer more sustainably is the right thing to do, and it also creates real savings for our business -- especially for one like ours that uses a lot of water and energy as part of the day-to-day operations. The return on investment is real; the water and energy saved are utility bills we simply don’t pay, and clean energy investments pay off.
As an example, a new piece of energy efficient bottling equipment will pay for itself in about a year and a half by saving Widmer Brothers $35,000 on water and $3,500 on energy costs per year. After 18 months, we’ll essentially be making money from the savings for the life of the machine. We’re already well below the benchmark for water usage compared to other breweries of our size, using 3.77 gallons of water per gallon of beer with a goal to use 3.50, while the typical usage is five to six gallons. Additional investments like this one help us do even more.
We’ve already seen how clean energy benefits business, and we’re committed to doing more. With more investment in clean energy solutions, more breweries will be able to join us in doing the right thing.