Craft Brewers are Passionate about Beer, Serious about the Environment

BLOOM Working with Craft Brewers on Sustainable Water Management Solutions

Think globally and act locally. That was the take-home message from recent climate change meetings in Paris.  After agreeing to the historic accord, Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna said it’s time for all Canadians to roll up their sleeves and pitch in to protect the planet.

In Ontario, one small but rapidly growing and thriving industry is already taking that message to heart when it comes to eco-friendly business practices.

Craft brewers, opening up almost weekly across the province to meet a booming thirst for small-batched brewed beer, are as proud of their grassroots ideals as they are for their homegrown beverages.

“Traditional brewing styles are rooted in sustainability,” said Steve Beauchesne, owner of Beau’s Brewery in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. “It’s built on a foundation that understands resources are precious. The craft beer industry has really taken hold of that.”

Steam Whistle Brewing has also built its brand on the industry’s long-standing respect for the environment and social responsibility. On its website, Steam Whistle declares that the brewer is “proudly making efforts every day to try to save the planet.”

“We’ve taken this seriously from day one,” said Sybil Taylor, Steam Whistle’s communications director, pointing out that the independent brewer captures steam to heat spring water for brewing, reuses its iconic green bottles up to 50 times and has eliminated all phosphates from cleaning materials.

“Craft beer drinkers care about ingredients, brewing methods and also the moral fiber of producers. Beer simply tastes better when you are able to savour a positive ethos,” said Taylor.

Steam Whistle, founded in downtown Toronto in 2000, has been named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers and won several notable environmental awards. The company is now placing more focus on what they can do to improve their water use and wastewater management practices.

Many Ontario craft brewers are turning to the BLOOM Centre for Sustainability for assistance and guidance with eco-business practices.  BLOOM is a non-profit agency with a mandate to raise environmental awareness and find affordable and practical solutions for Ontario businesses.

BLOOM president Kevin Jones commends the craft brewing sector in Ontario for its commitment to being sustainable and its role in creating “greener” communities.

“Responsible water management is essential to the sustainable growth of Ontario’s craft brewing sector,” said Jones. “These open-minded entrepreneurs  want to do the right things when it comes to water resource management and other sustainable practices, and we’re pleased to help guide them in that direction.”

There are more than 130 operating craft breweries as well as 40 contract breweries in Ontario, most in smaller communities.

The industry employs well over 1,400 people in direct brewery jobs, and the Ontario Craft Brewers association estimates the broader economic impact of small brewers at $600 million annually.

With this rapid growth has come increased pressure on municipal water infrastructure systems. Water is an ever-increasingly precious resource, and business costs to use water and dispose of wastewater are continuing to increase.

Mario Bourgeois of Cassel Brewery was alerted to that reality in a conversation with BLOOM. He describes that as a wakeup call.

“We want to be environmentally conscious today. We also don’t want a knock on our door tomorrow from regulators telling us we have to pay more,” said Bourgeois from his office in Casselman, Ontario. “It’s all about awareness. Every little step makes a difference.”

About 92 percent of all spent grains used in beer making are being diverted by Ontario’s craft brewers. Instead of dumping them down the drain, the brewers give the spent grains to companies that convert organic materials into livestock feed or fertilizer. Cassel Brewery will be doing the same with its spent yeast.

A good deal of water goes into the entire process of making beer. From bottle washing through the actual production and cleanup afterwards, it’s estimated that up to eight to 12 litres of water are used for every litre of beer produced, with some breweries as low as four to six.

Steam Whistle has launched a program to conserve as much water as possible, and is thinking big about the future. “We know there is a long road of change and investment ahead, but it will be worth it,” said Taylor.

BLOOM is currently doing pilot projects to show what is possible when craft breweries take a step back and re-think how they manage their water.  Cassel Brewery, for one, is eager to explore opportunities to improve their practices related to water and wastewater, said BLOOM senior vice-president Michael Fagan.

“They are doing a lot of positive practices within their operations”, said Fagan. “But they also want to do what is right to manage water more sustainably, not just for their business, but also for their community and their customers.”

“Small brewers are always working to improve the sustainability of their operations, and we applaud BLOOM’s work to help our members get even better at adopting more sustainable water resource management practices,” said John Hay, President, Ontario Craft Brewers.

“Sustainability is a smart ingredient for craft breweries that cater to customers who put a premium on beer with a good, clean taste,” says Steve Beauchesne, who founded Beau’s Brewery with his father in 2006.

“The environment has our highest level of priority. It’s something we always take seriously and are very passionate about it,” he said.

“Any craft brewery should be very mindful of the resources they are using and what its impact is on the environment. Brewers should make sure they are doing things right and BLOOM is definitely a leader in that field.”

BLOOM will soon launch a free online resource called Water & Beer that will guide craft breweries through the ins and outs of their water use, making it easier for them to adopt sustainable water management practices that make good business sense.

This project is funded by Growing Forward 2 a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

“Our government is proud to support the ground-breaking work that Steam Whistle, Beau’s, Cassel Brewery and other Ontario small breweries are undertaking with BLOOM to promote sustainable craft brewing in our province,” said Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

“These examples show how innovative and sustainable operations can save Ontario businesses money while creating new economic opportunities and protecting our important environmental resources,” said Leal.

“Of course, there’s more the industry can do around water management to improve the bottom-line and protect the environment, said BLOOM’s Kevin Jones. “Craft brewers are very open minded, passionate about their profession and want to do better. We all want to do better and collectively we will.”