As the weather takes a shift to the warm, many will be throwing themselves at any available patch of sunshine to soak up the rays.
For many, the essential accessory to summer – and indeed, Bank Holidays like the extra-lengthy one ahead – will be an ice-cold beer – but have you considered the impact of the bottle or can that you hold in your hand? This has been playing on my mind, so I decided to do a little research of my own.
Beer seems embedded in UK life and with good reason; fermented drinks have been around for millennia. Technology has globalised the brewing industry much like any other, and this is evident when you take a trip any supermarket.
Browse through their selection of beers and you’ll find Australian lagers and European pilsners alongside the British ales and Irish stouts. Although this has broadened our horizons, I wondered how this has affected the environmental impact of beer.
Brewery location (and therefore transportation/distribution required) is an interesting one as all is not as it seems when it comes to a beers place of origin.
A good example of this a popular Australian branded lager which has been produced in the UK since the 1980’s. One of the companies that make Dutch pilsner has 140 breweries around the world, including several in the UK. However, it’s a good idea to check the small print on your chosen beer to find out where it is produced. The fewer miles travelled from production to consumption will reduce its impact significantly.
The ingredients used for production are another important respect to consider when you are choosing your tipple. Some brands are proud of the locality of their grain suppliers. Carling not only tells you where their suppliers are based but also gives you an insight into their favourite TV programmes – evidently going for that ‘friendly face of global giant’ thing.
And while we’re at it, the means of production that went into brewing and maturing your selected drink is another factor behind the relative sustainability of your hops and barley of choice. Several breweries are championing greener beers by increasing efficiency and utilising waste.
Sharp’s – who interestingly chose to brew non-organic beer due to the air freighting involved (they prefer to buy local non-organic grains) – feed spent grain, waste beer and unwanted yeast to local cattle and pigs. They have also installed heat exchangers to recover energy at each stage in the brewing process.
On the other side of the country, Adnam’s brewery have installed an anaerobic digestion plant. This converts waste into methane which can be used to generate electricity; a fantastic source of renewable electricity which reduces waste that would otherwise go to landfill.
Then there’s a big concern: water use. This is a seriously water-intensive industry, way more than our Water Energy Calculator would be able to account for (but you should give it a go for your home). That said, there are ways to mitigate this somewhat.
Brewing giant SABMiller, owners of Peroni and Grolsch among others, has just won a Guardian Sustainable Business Award for their ‘Making More Beer Using Less Water’ initiative. This has mainly be achieved by looking at irrigation of the crops behind the brew, which account for 90 per cent of their water use. There’s more to be done here, but it’s a positive step.
Bottle or can? On a recent visit to Copenhagen, I found that a small fee is added to the price of bottled and canned drinks which you can claim back when you return them to the shop for recycling. A fantastic incentive! Going back to the transport issue, cans are lighter and therefore require less fuel for transportation while thinner, lighter bottles are beginning to penetrate the market.
And of course if you really want to go that extra mile, you could join the ‘upcycling’ movement and build your house from modified beer bottles, inspired by the 1960s innovation the Heineken WOBO.
If that’s a little too much effort, stay right where you are – choose local. Micro-breweries and “brew pubs” are increasing in popularity. Try out your local tipple; it may taste all the sweeter for having been made close to where you live.
This site should be able to help you find the sustainable ice-cold brew of your dreams, while reducing brew miles, doing a bit for the environment while boozing, and stimulating your local economy. Something worth raising a glass to.