A couple interesting articles about sustainability efforts in the brewing industry were recently posted on the news website of the UW-Madison’s Department of Engineering Professional Development. The first by Meg Turville-Heitz focuses primarily on the big multinationals. For example,
“Sustainability is a concept of rapidly increasing importance in the brewing industry,” says Ryan Griffin, a sustainability advisor with See the Forest, LLC, and a former asset management engineer at MillerCoors, which remains a client. As a student in the Master of Engineering in Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison he has worked to spread ideas learned from a systems perspective to the organization. “One such idea is using the concept of industrial ecology to analyze resource use throughout our supply chain,” says Griffin. “We are now beginning to build long-term partnerships with our material suppliers to design sustainability into how we operate. This could mean helping barley farmers grow their grain with less water, or our packaging suppliers use less energy to produce their materials.”
He notes that water and energy efficiency per barrel of beer brewed “are two metrics the company has actively worked to improve for the last five years. Two MillerCoors breweries are already at world class levels of water consumption per barrel” or less than a ratio of 3:1 water use to beer, and “others are close behind,” he says. Additionally, six of the company’s eight breweries have achieved goals of zero waste to landfills.
New Glarus Brewing Company in southwest Wisconsin has been experiencing double digit growth, averaging 18% every year since it opened in its initial Riverside Brewery in 1993, says founder and president Deb Carey. “We’ve just completed $9 million in expansion and another $11 million on the way,” she says, adding “We doubled the capacity of our Hilltop brewery from 150,000 to 250,000 barrels per year.”
Those expansions have been a model in sustainability. “It’s been about reclaiming steam, heat exchangers, reclaiming chemicals, our own sewage treatment plant, wind and solar,” says Carey. For example, the chemicals used to rinse the three miles of pipe in the facility are re-used in washing down floors, and treated wastewater drawn from their own treatment plant – reducing the brewery’s impact on the community sewage treatment system – has been used in irrigation on the grounds.
For more of the local angle, including a look at some of the sustainability efforts undertaken at Ale Asylum, head here.
Alistair Bland had a great post at NPR yesterday, highlighting a number of the problematic ways that some marine species are caught. As he notes,
If sustainability is a top priority when you’re shopping at the fish counter, wild-caught seafood can be fraught with ethical complications.
One major reason why: bycatch, or the untargeted marine life captured accidentally by fishermen and, often, discarded dead in heaps. It’s one of the most problematic aspects of industrial fishing.
Tuna fishermen don’t only catch tuna. In fact, they mostly don’t catch tuna — especially when they use long lines rigged with hundreds of baited hooks. A recent commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization found that tuna fishermen hauled in 750,000 tons of tuna and 828,000 tons of non-tuna creatures per year in the mid-2000s. In some regions, a quarter of the total catch is sharks, according to a published in 2007. Many sharks are thrown back dead — including 20,000 tons of blue sharks annually in the North Atlantic, as in the Marine Ecology Progress Series.
For each aquatic animal he discusses, he offers suggestions for good alternatives. For tuna, the alternatives are
Pole-caught tuna, often yellowfin and albacore. As with other species, finding these alternatives may be a matter of chatting it up with those selling the fish.
Check out the full post here. You’ll come away informed and prepared to make better choices at the market and when dining out.
In case you missed it, I wanted to highlight the great special series that NPR ran last week from Daniel Zwerdling and Margot Williams (supported by researcher Barbara Van Woerkom). In three separate reports, they examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the group that runs the world’s most extensive program to certify seafood products as sustainable.
The opening of the text version of the first entry provides a good introduction to the key issues:
Rebecca Weel pushes a baby stroller with her 18-month-old up to the seafood case at Whole Foods, near ground zero in New York. As she peers at shiny fillets of salmon, halibut and Chilean sea bass labeled “certified sustainable,” Weel believes that if she purchases this seafood, she will help protect the world’s oceans from overfishing.
But some leading environmentalists have a different take: Consumers like Weel are being misled by a global program that amounts to “greenwashing” — a strategy that makes consumers think they are protecting the planet, when actually they are not.
At Whole Foods, the seafood counter displays blue labels from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international, nonprofit organization. The MSC is a prime example of an economic trend: Private groups, not the government, are telling consumers what is good or bad for the environment. The MSC says its label guarantees that the wild seafood was caught using methods that do not deplete the natural supply. It also guarantees that fishing companies do not cause serious harm to other life in the sea, from coral to dolphins.
Critics, though, say the story is more complicated, arguing that
the MSC system has been certifying some fisheries despite evidence that the target fish are in trouble, or that the fishing industry is harming the environment. And critics say the MSC system has certified other fisheries as sustainable even though there is not enough evidence to know how they are affecting the environment.
When a customer sees the MSC’s sustainable label at the supermarket, “the consumer looks at the fish and says, ‘Oh, it has the label on it, it must be sustainable,’ ” [Gerry] Leape [of the Pew Environment Group] says. “And in some fisheries that the MSC has certified, that’s not necessarily the case.”
The reporting is NPR at its best: thoughtful, probing, considered, and in depth. It covers the origin of the MSC, the Walmart effect, and more. You can find the full series, some related posts, and plenty of links here.
Late last week the public radio program Marketplace ran this story, which focuses on Niman Ranch and its founder, Bill Niman. Niman Ranch was one of the early producers of high-end, sustainably, humanely raised meats. The business has grown into a network of some 700 family farms and, with new leadership and new investors, hopes to turn sustainable agriculture into a sustainable business. The report considers the tension between maintaining such a company’s economic viability while also meeting its ecological and ethical goals.
Niman himself, though, has decided he wants to keep it smaller with more direct control over all aspects of production. A few years ago he left the company and has since started a new one. As described in the Marketplace story, “He left Niman Ranch because he couldn’t sign off on certain practices, like outsourcing butchering and animal transport. He admits that doing everything in-house was something dear to him that didn’t necessarily add value for most consumers. [Niman:] ‘If the consumer in the marketplace is not going to reward you with a premium for this more expensive or controlled production model, then you better be like the other guys.'”
Check out the story link above for the full audio and transcript, along with some cool photos. And for a related, more detailed look at the business history of Niman Ranch, head to this story from Inc. magazine. It’s a longer read, but as such it explores the issues raised by the Marketplace story in much greater depth. Definitely worth a look.