Food Service & Agriculture and Sustainability

Breweries unite on sustainability efforts

April 15, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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A conversation about recyclable gloves was part of the latest Michigan Brewers Guild sustainability committee meeting.

The committee was formed last July because some of the state’s major breweries, including Founders Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery, Short’s Brewing Co. and Brewery Vivant, are very focused on being sustainable in a resource-heavy industry.

The committee includes representatives from Founders, Bell’s, Short’s and BarFly Ventures.

Brooks Twist, Brewery Vivant’s director of operations and committee chair, credits owner Kris Spaulding with creating the committee. Spaulding serves on the national Brewers Association’s sustainability subcommittee.

Prior to Brewery Vivant, Spaulding worked with Herman Miller’s sustainability program and established the brewery with sustainability as a core tenant of the company, which is a certified B Corp and has been recognized by various sustainability awards including the Local First Change Agent award and West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum Sustainable Business of the Year, both in 2015.

“We had talked internally about all the great things we do and developed relationships with other breweries doing the same things, and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the other breweries in the state to do it?’” Twist said. “Our goal was to see if we can get everyone to sit at a table to have a central hub to share ideas, come up with goals and push stuff out there.”

Last Wednesday’s meeting in Founders’ Centennial Room was the committee’s third. An open house that followed was attended by more than 50 Michigan breweries. The committee has an open house every quarter; the first two were at Short’s in October 2015 and Bell’s in January. The next one will be in the Ann Arbor area prior to the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Summer Festival in July.

A large number of the 50 attendees at the last meeting were new and smaller breweries, which is a good sign, according to Twist, as it’s often harder for small operations to commit time and resources to sustainability.

“Lots of folks are just focused on getting the business up and going,” he said. “Bigger breweries have more resources they can commit to the cause and have more financial abilities to take it on.”

The ability to tackle sustainability is why the committee is crucial, Twist said, as the breweries can try different approaches and help implement infrastructure for smaller brewers to utilize when it comes to practices such as composting and using environmentally friendly supplies.

The committee’s main goal currently is to help as many breweries as possible fill out the Brewers Association’s sustainability survey. Of the more than 4,000 breweries in the U.S., fewer than 100 filled out the survey last year. Twist said the hope is to have 50 from Michigan participate this year. The sustainability committee hired an intern from Michigan State University to help with the effort.

There was also discussion about finding an environmental consulting firm to add depth to the discussions of sustainability and to uncover anything breweries in Michigan might be overlooking.

Twist said it appears Michigan is the first state to champion a sustainability committee, and credits the Michigan Brewers Guild for the strong infrastructure. Known for its four popular beer festivals each year, the guild generates revenue and shares information with more than 90 percent of the state’s breweries.

The guild was very open to the idea of a sustainability committee, Twist said, and he is surprised more state guilds haven’t started similar groups.

“It’s such an energy-intensive industry, but it’s easy to sit back and have a beer and say, ‘This tastes great and I’m having a great time.’ But we need to think about the amount of resources going into that one beer,” Twist said. “If there’s a better way to do something that can mitigate the impact we have on the environment, we should be doing that.”

Many breweries across the country have extensive sustainability programs, such as New Belgium Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Alaskan Brewing Co., so sustainability isn’t lost on the industry, especially with the national organization pushing it. Having a state guild help the smaller breweries with fewer resources is important, however, Twist said.

“Why do it? Because it’s the right thing to do,” said Twist. “Most of us like to be outside, cycle, hike, camp, enjoy everything Michigan and nature has to offer. To think that we’re not doing everything we can to protect (the environment), then we’re contributing to its demise.”

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