Who knew that when I was enjoying my Bell’s Oberon Ale that I was enjoying the benefits of sustainability as well as a terrific beer. Although sustainability might just be a facet of corporate social responsibility for some, craft brewers are looking to sustainability technology to solve some of their common business challenges. For these small, independent, and sometimes family-owned businesses, efforts in this area are primarily about finding workable solutions that save energy and other resources, with returns on investment being secondary, according to MiBiz
“Ideologically, people in craft beer have a mindset of efficient use of resources and an affable relationship with the outdoors,” says Walker Modic, sustainability manager at Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery, in the article. “You find people [at breweries] that love the outdoors and hate inefficiencies—it’s also just smart business.”
Because of their dedication to the environment and crafting eco-friendly businesses, craft brewers look at their sustainability processes and technology as investments in the future. As such, they are more comfortable with long-term payback timelines, Modic says. This emphasis on sustainability and openness to experimentation have opened up opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs to experiment with solutions that can capture energy, produce alternative forms of energy, and reduce waste for craft brewers.
For example, Jakob Nalley, a PhD candidate at Michigan State University, is developing a process to grow algae in breweries’ wastewater. This mixture of yeast, spent grain, and other organic matter and nutrients provides the perfect environment for algae to grow and produce biofuel, which can be used to power brewery generators. Algae produces biofuel more efficiently than corn and other plant-based sources.
Nalley says the process also could help craft brewers with their water-reduction goals. Because the algae consumes the nitrogen, phosphorous, and other matter in the wastewater, craft brewers can use this method to help treat the water and recycle it back into their operations, creating both financial and environmental resource savings.
Similarly, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based renewable energy firm CaseQ Technologies currently is developing a craft-scale system that can capture the carbon dioxide released during the brewing process and store it for later use, such as for carbonating beer and purging conditioning tanks. Although similar systems already exist for big-beer companies, the physical size and price point of this system are being adjusted to fit craft brewers’ needs.
In addition to environmental benefits, sustainability technology can help these small businesses keep their operations lean and survive financially. Some of the first craft brewers who opened up shop in the 1990s had to figure out how to minimize their raw materials and maximize output, writes John Wiegand in the article. This, again, is where sustainability comes in.
To reduce water costs, Bell’s Brewery invested in a biodigester project, which it uses to convert leftover organic matter from its wastewater into burnable methane. This system, which has been in place since 2014, processes an average of 100,000 gallons of wastewater every day.
Of course, water conservation is important to the big brewers too. Marco Ugarte, sustainability manager at Chicago-based MillerCoors and an APICS Supply Chain Council board member, says even the smallest reductions in water use at his company can result in saving several million glasses of water. Keep an eye out for an upcoming story in USA Today
about how MillerCoors works with its ingredient suppliers to reduce water use.
Beyond these efforts, the door is wide open for experimenters to create new solutions and for companies to adopt new practices to craft sustainable businesses.
Sustainability and its triple-bottom-line tenets of people, planet, and profit are growing increasingly important in supply chain and operations management. Consider this description of a sustainable supply chain from the APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge Framework
: “Sustainable supply chains seek clean methods of production, minimization of the environmental footprint of products and services, and combining environmentally friendly decisions with effective supply chain practices. Clean production focuses on waste minimization and avoidance, reusing waste products when possible, reclaiming products at the end of useful life, preventing or reducing pollution at the source, substituting for toxic and hazardous materials, reducing waste and potential pollutants in product or service as well as transportation to market.”
Are you curious about how sustainability can benefit your business? Join APICS and Michigan State University for “Reimagining Sustainability in the Supply Chain,” on March 17 at 1:00 p.m. Central. This free webinar will share insights about embracing complexity to enhance competitiveness; reimagining sustainability to support the business model; and risk and resiliency as opportunities to turn sustainability into growth, not cost. Click here