When ordering a beer, taste, price and possibly the length of time it takes to pour (standing next to a pretty girl? I'll have a Guinness
, thanks ...) are generally the only factors we take into consideration. But what about environmental footprint?
Granted, it's probably not the most pressing question at 11 o'clock on a Friday night, but sipping a brew produced with wind power can be a surprisingly effective ice-breaker. With that in mind, we talked to some experts on green suds.
Drop the Bottle
According to Jane Zhou of the Worldwatch Institute
, the greatest impact beer has on the environment is simply from its packaging, mostly in the form of glass bottles and aluminum cans. Currently, only 6 percent of beer is sold in refillable bottles, which goes some way toward explaining the 1990 study that showed 4 percent of all solid waste in the U.S. -- 7.8 million tons of it! -- was made up of beer and soft drink bottles and cans. So the first, and easiest, step is simply to drink tap beer, rather than bottled. This helps to make you look like less of a yuppie putz as well, so really, it's win-win.
Go With Green Brews
It's also good to look out for breweries that make an effort to be green during the actual production process. One of the most well-known green breweries is the New Belgium Brewery
, which not only uses wind and solar power, but also creates 15 percent of the plant's electricity using the methane given off as a by-product of their water-treatment process -- probably the first time beer-induced methane has ever been used for something that wasn't totally obnoxious.
The Sierra Nevada Brewery
in Chico, Calif., is also doing its part, especially when it comes to dealing with their wastewater. This is a big issue with breweries, since, according to The Brewer's Handbook
, every liter of beer can produce up to 10 liters of wastewater. That's why Sierra Nevada is currently examining recycling their waste into Ethanol fuel
to power their fleet of delivery trucks. Yes, they're essentially planning on powering their vehicles with beer. Which is just awesome.
Keep It Organic
One of the biggest ways to help the environment while on a night out is to stick to organic beers. An estimated 67 million birds and up to 14 million fish are killed every year
in America by pesticides sprayed on crops such as barley, so choosing the organic stuff can make a big difference.
Thanks to the rise in microbreweries
in the last few years, there are plenty to choose from. Tony Powell, Head Brewer of the Fish Brewing Company
in Olympia, Washington, claims that organic beer is getting more and more popular:
"We're producing about 10,000 barrels a year now. There's a lot of organic breweries around -- you've got Wolaver's in Vermont
, the Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland
... it's kind of a big deal here in the Pacific Northwest."
Zhou at Worldwatch says to be mindful that certified organic beer doesn't always contain 100% organic materials – mostly because organic hops are virtually impossible to find in the United States – but that said, being green is obviously a founding principle of Fish Brewing Co.
"We donate a lot of money to environmental causes, and we brew organic beer," says Powell. "The business mind of the company is to be conscious of the environment."
Big can be Green, Too
Of course, it's not all bad news for the larger companies out there. "Large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Budweiser and Coors achieve economies of scale from their huge production processes," says Zhou. "They use much less water and energy per liter brewed than a local microbrewery does, so that is a little bit of a trade-off."
Finally, remember not to be that guy
-- put your bottle in a recycling bin instead of throwing it in the road.