Food Service & Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Brewers join push to save Great Lakes

Water conservation conference is coming to Grand Rapids this week.

October 17, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Grand Rapids is a hub of water conservation efforts this year.

In September the 10th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference was held in Grand Rapids, the same week the projected economic impact of the Grand River restoration project was announced.

This week, the sixth annual Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference for Craft Brewers and Policy Makers is in Grand Rapids. The conference includes a Founders Brewing Co. tour on Tuesday, a day of workshops on Wednesday at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton St., and tours of Hop Head Farms and Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo on Thursday.

Water is so integral to the production of beer, it’s no surprise brewers are one of the groups taking steps to protect the world’s fresh water.

“Beer is 90 percent water,” said conference organizer Lucy Saunders. “But the other ingredients — malt and hops — use a significant amount of water to produce, as well.”

Some breweries have been able to reduce their usage of water to about three gallons per gallon of beer; most use between seven and 12 gallons. With federal legislation restricting large-scale diversions from the Great Lakes — called the Great Lakes Compact — set to take effect in 2015, brewers and legislators are determined to preserve fresh water.

Many large breweries across the country are also members of the National Resources Defense Council’s Brewers for Clean Water campaign.

Saunders said the Great Lakes Conservation Conference is put together by volunteers and only charges enough to pay for necessary items like the conference center and the tours.

The tours are a crucial part of the conference. They give attendees added value for their travel, and also show how brewers and farmers are taking care of the environment. A place like Hop Head Farm, for example, has interesting and innovative pest management and sustainable agricultural systems.

“If you invest in the travel to get to a conference, you should make it worth their while,” Saunders said.

The first conference was held in Saunders’ hometown of Milwaukee, with later festivals held in Rochester, N.Y., Madison, Wis., St. Louis and Chicago. Each conference has had between 60 and 90 attendees, Saunders said.

The conference made its way to Grand Rapids this year because of previous conference attendees such as Founders Brewing Co.’s founder Dave Engbers and Walker Modic, Bell’s Brewery’s sustainability specialist.

“They were attendees at previous conferences and they wanted to get more involved,” Saunders said. “If someone attends, there’s a good chance they’ll want to get more involved because the workshops are very collegial, and in-depth conversations begin.”

Saunders said besides brewers, she also makes a point of inviting other key watershed protection groups and policy makers.

“There’s an overlap in what the groups care about,” she said. “Breweries like to meet and support them.”

Among the presenters at the conference will be Modic, Engbers, Mayor George Heartwell, Barfly Ventures’ Garry Boyd, Short’s Brewing Co.’s Tyler Glaze, Goose Island Brewing Co.’s Ian Hughes, Abita Brewing Co.’s Jaime Jurado, Kent County Water Conservation co-executive director Brian Keeley, Clean Water Action’s Eric Keller, National Wildlife Federation’s Marc Smith, Brewers Association’s Chuck Skypeck and Brewery Vivant’s Jason Spaulding.

Topics include energy and water, sustainability case studies, brewery decisions on anaerobic wastewater treatment, waste-to-energy case studies, brewpub hospitality sustainability, and an update on the Great Lakes Compact.

Michigan was a natural fit for the conference this time around as breweries such as Founders, Grand Rapids Brewing Co. and Bellaire’s Short’s Brewing Co. are making regular efforts to inform people about the importance of water sustainability.

Founders is one of the primary supporters of Grand Rapids Whitewater. Grand Rapids Brewing Co. brewed a beer called No Fracking Way in an effort to help inform drinkers about the effects of fracking. Short’s has a beer called Superfluid that is meant to bring attention to the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline that runs across the Straits of Mackinac.

“They see the importance of aligning themselves with helping protect the Great Lakes,” she said.

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