Q&A: Wicked Weed Shares Practical Steps to Brewery Sustainability Success (Plus Tactics You Can Steal)

Brewery sustainability

by | Sep 21, 2022

Brewery sustainabilityWicked Weed Brewing’s director of safety and sustainability talks about how the company achieved significant brewery sustainability milestones, and shares specific steps other companies can take to get started easily and with little financial outlay.

Asheville, North Carolina-based Wicked Weed Brewing recently became the first craft brewery to add standardized recycling labels to products through the How2Recycle platform. The brewery sustainability committee, the Green Freaks, recently released the company’s first CSR Impact Report, which announced a number of other accomplishments. These include:

  • Diverting more than 98% of overall waste from landfill via purchasing a baler and plastic banding chipper, and working with WNC Brewery Recycling Co-op to recycle malt bags, super sacks, plastic wrap and bags, and plastic straps;
  • Reducing the amount of water used by 12% in 2021 via water optimization projects like improving brewing vessel clean-in-place processes and can rinse processes;
  • Completing a GHG inventory, purchasing carbon offsets for 26 sales vehicles and local delivery trucks, and working with Anheuser Busch to offset 100% of electricity via renewable energy projects.

We spoke with Andrew Dagnan, director of safety and sustainability at Wicked Weed, to learn how the brewery achieved these milestones:

What were the steps Wicked Weed took to bring these programs to fruition?  

Andrew Dagnan: First, this was a team effort. Our sustainability journey began with our founders in 2012, setting the expectation early in our company history that we would give back to our community and produce our products in an environmentally responsible way. In 2020 we established our sustainability committee, the Green Freaks.

Establishing this team allowed us to embed sustainability into the company, while reducing our environmental impact for brewing, packaging, and shipping our products. By showing results through this team’s work, including a 16% improvement in waste diversion and 12% reduction in water use in 2021, we were able to engage our employees and company leadership. 

After a couple years of work with the Green Freaks, 2022 has been a year of strategy and focus. We are working hard to set our long-term vision for what sustainability means for Wicked Weed – People, Environment, and Arts & Culture.   

What challenges did the team face and how did they overcome them? 

AD: One of the main challenges for Sustainability at Wicked Weed has been setting a clear definition of what “sustainability” means for us and consolidating a comprehensive strategy. The term “sustainability” is broad. It must be clearly defined for all internal and external stakeholders, based on what is important to the business.

At Wicked Weed, we are currently focusing on three main areas as part of our core principles and the driving pillars of our Beers that Build program– People, Environment, and Arts & Culture. We realize that we can’t do everything at all at once, so we are challenging ourselves with narrowing our focus to set a sustainable and long-term vision and strategy.

What can you share about how much these programs have cost the company, and/or how much you have saved? 

AD: Sustainability doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive – focus on what you can do quickly and easily first, while setting-up a longer term plan for items or programs that cost money.  Look for free or cheap resources such as energy and water audits performed by local utilities.

Regarding what we have saved, below are differences between 2020 and 2022 (YTD) for our brewing, packaging, and shipping operations.

  • 19% (lb. of material) increase in waste diverted from the landfill, to reuse, compost, or recycle;
  • 24% decrease in electricity use (kWh/bbl of beer packaged);
  • 19% decrease in fossil gas use (therms/bbl of beer packaged) — Note: fossil gas is also known as natural gas;
  • 14% decrease in water use (bbl of water used/bbl of beer packaged).

Do you have any advice that will help other companies in their own sustainability journeys?

AD: First, make it as easy as possible. Don’t get overwhelmed by sustainability. Meet with key stakeholders in your company to learn what you’re already doing, what is important to the business, and where quick wins are.

You may be surprised to learn that you’re already doing more than you thought! As Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Next, collaborate and learn from others. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel to set up a sustainability program. Look for resources from industry associations such as the Master Brewers and Brewers Association. Research what other breweries are doing through their websites. Reach out to other companies to learn how they manage sustainability. Learn all you can before starting your own journey.

Now, get to work!  Engage your employees by training them on what sustainability means for the company and how they can get involved. Set up a sustainability team so you can get help and embed sustainability into the business. With that team, look for low-hanging fruit such as improving efficiencies (e.g., reduce water usage, electricity, etc.). By achieving quick wins, you can show results to employees and company leadership.

Collect data on current practices such as utilities and community events. Look for free or cheap resources such as energy and water audits performed by local utilities. Get involved in the community by working with local non-profits on events and programs. Do all of this while maintaining a focus on your people – manage your business ethically, inclusively, and safely to ensure an equitable and sustainable future for all.

This all sounds like a lot, but don’t try to do everything at once. Prioritize and focus on what you have resources to do.

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