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Kick the habit with low carbon brew

June 4, 2008

Tomorrow, June 5, is World Environment Day. And like every good party, it’s got a theme: “Kick the Habit, towards a low carbon economy.”

You may have heard about a little problem we call climate change, and you may have heard that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major culprit in warming our planet. According to the journal Nature Geoscience, we’ve increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by A LOT in the industrial age. Over the last 200 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 100 parts per million (ppm). Over the previous 6,000 years, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere only increased by 22 ppm.

Tomorrow is all about cutting carbon, but how do you celebrate a holiday that’s about kicking a habit? Easy. With beer.

The New Belgium Brewing Company (in Colorado), brewer of the popular Fat Tire Ale, takes kicking the carbon habit pretty seriously. They use an uber-efficient brew kettle and process their own wastewater to produce methane, which they use to supply up to 15% of their energy needs. The rest of their power comes from wind (and has since 1999). To combat deforestation, they’ve used wood killed by pine beetles to build the interior of their packaging hall. Plus, they support bicycle commuting for employees—all of whom get a cruiser bike after a year on the job—and everyone else through Team Wonderbike.

Full Sail Brewing Company (in Oregon) is kicking their carbon habit and supporting local farmers at the same time. To reduce their energy and water consumption, Full Sail has compressed their workweek into four 10-hour shifts and installed a hot water recovery system. These changes have led to a 400,000 kwh drop in energy use and a 3.1 million gallon decline in water use. But they’re still using power so they purchase enough blocks of wind power to reduce their annual greenhouse emissions by 168 tons. Like New Belgium, Full Sail treats their wastewater in-house. But instead of using wastewater to produce fuel, they use the bio-solids from the wastewater to fertilize local farms. They also support local agriculture by buying most of their barley and hops from Northwest farms and by recycling spent grain and yeast as feed for dairy cows.

And yet, brewing and bottling only account for a portion of beer’s carbon footprint. Buying local brews minimizes the greenhouse gas emissions of transporting the beer from the brewery to the retailer. Alas, keeping the beer cold also uses energy. New Belgium Brewing found that more than half the greenhouse emissions associated with Fat Tire come from refrigerators at beer retailers.

Think there’s nothing you can do about the carbon footprint of your local liquor store? Think again. Carrotmob convinced a San Francisco liquor store to use 22% of its profits from a Carrotmob-spurred buying spree for efficiency upgrades. The result: the store made five times more than a typical day and 22% of the profits went to updating all of the lighting and the refrigerator gaskets.

Kicking the carbon habit might be the theme of the day, but there’s more to environmentally-responsible imbibing than cutting carbon. Organic beers like Peak Organic (Portland, ME), Fish Brewing Company (Olympia, WA) and Orlio (South Burlington, VT) use pesticide-free ingredients and some use local oats, hops and barley as well.

To learn more about environmentally-friendly beer, track down local brews and find out how you can “Drink Beer and Save the World,” check out the Beer Activist.

And if beer isn’t your World Environment Day beverage of choice, check out our Earth Day post on organic and biodynamic wine.

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