When people think of green beer, they may imagine a regular beer, tainted with green colouring, something that is often done to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
But, there is an even greener genre of beer that far exceeds expectations and has a much smaller impact on the earth: Eco-friendly beer!
Why the need for eco-beer?
Beer is generally brewed using a mixture of malted barley, hops and water. The brewing process can also:
- Use between two and six litres of water to brew one litre of beer.
- Use a lot of energy and produce plenty of waste water (depending on the scale of the operations).
- Produce a large amount of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and deteriorating air quality.
The ingredients themselves need to be grown and can have large impacts on the land because of the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers, which impact the local biodiversity and help to pollute lakes, rivers and oceans.
Including the water needed to brew the beer, the water required to grow the ingredients can raise the total to anywhere between 60 and 180 litres per litre of beer produced (this isn’t so bad when we learn that it takes around 35 litres of water to make half a litre of coca-cola, and over 500 to make a litre of premium coca-cola brand orange juice, depending on where it was produced).
What puts the eco-friendly in eco-friendly beer?
An “eco-friendly” or “green” beer brewery should:
- Use organically grown ingredients – Free from the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
- Use renewable energy sources – For example, wind and solar.
- Recycle wastewater – Recycling wastewater as well as digesting it to make methane gas for further off grid energy supplies.
- Use water efficiently - Rainwater harvesting, reducing water use and limiting evaporation.
- Recycle leftover plant materials – These are sold to farmers to use as cattle feed.
- Provide ethanol for fuel refining – Waste sugars and ethanol bi-products can be refined into vehicle fuel.
- Use recycled materials – Use recycled aluminium and glass to make cans and bottles, and cardboard for packaging.
- Produce for a local market – The less transport involved in getting the beer to its destination, the fewer carbon emissions given off.
- Organise a post consumer recycling initiative – Some companies have organised packaging and container recycling services for cardboard, bottles and cans.
Breweries that are pioneering the eco-friendly beer world
- Go to the Daily Green to see their top 10 pick of Green beers in the US. Certified organic varieties will carry the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) stamp of approval.
- EU – Certified organic beers in Germany and Europe should carry the “Bio mark” or the European Union organic stamp respectively.
- UK – Check out East Green for more info about the UK’s first green beer.
- The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin was the first business in Ireland to gain a three star accreditation from the Sustainable Tourism Eco-Certification Program (STEP).
Until greener beer becomes more common we will likely have to keep on searching for some of the lesser known brands that employ eco-practices.
How to choose eco-friendly beer
- Tap or bottle – Studies show that even after the carbon cost of washing glasses and the transportation of the beer is tallied up, beer from a keg still has a significantly lower carbon footprint than bottled or canned beer.
Go for the keg – Besides buying beer on tap from a pub, try hiring a keg if you are having a party, instead of buying crates of bottles or tins. A keg is used an average of 22 times a year and can last 20 years, saving approximately 58 000 bottles or cans.
- Choose organic beer – Certified organic beer has much less of an impact than commercially produced beer.
- Look for local beer - Local beer can be made from more native ingredients, and is also not usually transported long distances to get to your glass.
- Brew your own beer – There are hundreds of recipes available online, but make sure your ingredients are organic before you buy them.
- Recycle – When buying bottles and cans for home consumption, make sure that they are taken to a recycling depot when empty. A recycled aluminium can uses around 90% less energy then it takes to make a new one from raw materials.
- Ask your friendly barman – Ask the pub when they might be getting some organic beer. If the demand is there, the supply will follow.
Scraping the beer barrel
Unfortunately, not every brewery supports eco-friendly processes, but, things are changing. You may find it difficult to always think green, but, until more environmentally responsible brands are available and affordable in local pubs or shops, try your best to support green beer in some of the other ways mentioned above.