New Belgium Brewing Is Toasting to its Sustainability Skills  


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by | Mar 15, 2023

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New Belgium Brewing Company distributes beer in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Sweden. The Fort Collins, Colorado-based company is available in all 50 states. The company’s best-known beer is Fat Tire.

Notably, the company is committed to solving climate change, saying that extreme weather events — such as droughts — hurt its product: beer. Water is the main component of beer, and a lack of water hurts barley crops.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” the company says. “As weather patterns become more extreme and erratic, were seeing the impact its having on food, shelter, marginalized communities, and our ecosystem. Thats why we worked to make Fat Tire the first certified carbon-neutral beer in the U.S. and are committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030.”

It is taking steps within its four walls to reduce its climate impact, having become a certified zero-waste brewery. It also includes installing solar panels and creating electricity from wastewater. It also captures waste heat and reuses it to generate power, while its main brewery in Ft. Collins is LEED certified, having achieved the highest possible status related to energy efficiency. At the same time, the company measures its greenhouse gases and has applied an internal energy tax to reduce those emissions. 

And it is sharing its knowledge with its supply chain. Indeed, “we launched a new climate action program with our amazing suppliers. Since they contribute about 85% of the GHGs in a beers lifecycle, well need their partnership in reaching our 2030 decarbonization goals,” Katie Wallace, Director of Social and Environmental Impact at New Belgium Brewing told 

Its 2030 goals: 

— achieving carbon neutrality across the company and among all its brands. 

— running its operations using 100% renewable energy. 

— reducing its absolute greenhouse gases by 55% and those within its supply chain by 30% from a 2019 baseline.

What green technologies is New Belgium Brewing using? 

New Belgium has long sought ways to reduce its footprint. Beginning in 1998, it helped build a local wind farm — a move that its employees had to approve and which came at the expense of their profit-sharing agreement; it required a significant, upfront investment, but the workers voted unanimously to become a wind-powered brewery.

A 296 kW solar plant fuels its Fort Collins Packaging Hall. During peak times, the panels generate enough electricity to power the companys canning and bottling lines. We also make electricity at our water treatment plant, where we clean water before discharging it to the city treatment system. This produces 11% of our electricity in Fort Collins.

Energy-efficient technologies are also on prominent display. While nearly every room at its two leading breweries — the second is in Ashville, N.C. — uses natural light, the company is also improving insulation. It has also deployed boiler tank technology, which it says “drastically reduces” its energy use per liter of beer. The Ashville brewery is also LEED Certified. 

“Still, given those investments, our energy efficiency ratios have struggled to improve due to fluctuating capacity utilization and the sheer number of new beers weve created,” the company says. “Its not likely well meet the 2020 goal, which is inspiring new approaches within our energy efficiency work at the brewery.”

What kind of sustainable packaging does the company prefer? 

Ah, this is part of the great debate over cans versus bottles. While cans are lighter and, therefore, easier to ship, they generate more greenhouse gases during the first half of the lifestyle. New Belgium says the challenge is almost a toss-up, although the cans might have a slight edge; the lighter weight means fewer greenhouse gases in the long run. Retailers, warehouses, and distributors can recycle both cans and bottles. 

“At the end of the day,” it notes, “cans have slightly fewer emissions than bottles. This is primarily due to hydropower, which also causes negative environmental impacts on their respective watersheds.

The company says it does not reuse bottles but advocates for recycling them. Glass has endless recycling possibilities, which is essential because glass bottle production is the companys most significant contributor to greenhouse gases. 

New Belgium is considering returnable bottles. But it takes work. For starters, such bottles need to be more durable, and thus, they use more raw materials. That means they are heavier, creating more heat-trapping emissions when shipped. 

And history shows that many customers still need to return their bottles, meaning they end up in landfills. And if they are returned, it is problematic for the retailers and distributors that need extra space and labor to accommodate the bottles. Moreover, washing the bottles requires energy and water and a significant capital investment — estimated to run as much as $1 million. 

Therefore, returnable bottles are a high hurdle, although possible. 

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