Industry collaboration holds key to sustainable future

Tomasz Lenartowicz, Director at Collective Motion Brewing, discusses SIBA’s report in setting out a strategy for net zero and how brewers can collaborate to serve the collective cause.

The recent publication of Brewing Our Way to Net Zero by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) sets out the organisation’s sustainability strategy between now and 2045. It’s a valuable report which establishes a framework for independent brewers to meet the government’s legally binding targets on its journey to net zero emissions by 2050, which include reducing national emissions 78% by 2035 and 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

SIBA’s report makes a notable point in highlighting that in some ways small independent breweries lead the way in sustainability:  most of them supply locally produced products in reusable containers delivered to a predominantly 40-mile radius. That said, as energy-intensive SMEs, few have the resources to make the investment required to achieve net zero. As SIBA suggests of net zero, “it is likely that some of the means to achieve it, such as next generation technology, may not come on stream for many years and will in all likelihood require government intervention and incentives to deliver at a reasonable cost.”

Independent brewers can ill afford to wait for intervention. As well as being critical in tackling the climate crisis, reducing energy consumption and waste has a financial motivation. Measures are currently available to achieve those ends without blowing a huge hole in an SME’s capital.

Many businesses focus on their energy usage, but water usage is often overlooked. It’s an important consideration. The Water Resources Group says that water demand is expected to exceed current supply by 40% by 2030. Water resources are becoming increasingly scarce as climate change increases risk and unpredictability.  The issue is exacerbated by water resource mismanagement. Excessive water extraction can deplete natural aquifers, harm ecosystems, and impact local communities. Disposal of wastewater from breweries, often high in organic pollutants, can pollute water bodies and harm aquatic life.

Water is, of course, a vital ingredient in the brewing industry. Brewing is a water-intensive process and it’s estimated that it takes around 3 to 7 gallons of water to produce just one gallon of beer. Brewers must manage their water consumption responsibly to address sustainability concerns. That requires attention to every stage of production, from malting and mashing to boiling, cooling, and cleaning.

Breweries can adopt measures to improve water efficiency throughout the process. Unidentified leakage is one of the biggest causes of water waste. Equipment upgrades, such as low-flow nozzles and efficient heat exchangers, can significantly reduce water consumption. Optimising cleaning and sanitation practices can also minimise water waste.

Keeping track of water usage, including the use of real-time monitoring systems, can help breweries identify areas of excessive water consumption and take corrective actions. Data-driven insights can lead to targeted improvements in water efficiency and help breweries measure their progress toward sustainability goals.

Maintenance checks should be carried out to check for leaks on water valves. There is also ample scope to reuse greywater, taking pressure off the sewage works by reducing commercial sewage. Automated washing machines such as cask washers, keg washers, and CIP systems can use grey water to pre-rinse containers and tanks. Implementing effective wastewater treatment systems enable breweries to treat and purify their wastewater before releasing it back into the environment.

Efficient use of water should go hand in hand with efficient use of energy.  Equipment such as high-efficiency boilers, heat exchangers, and variable frequency drives (VFDs) can optimise energy usage and reduce waste throughout the brewing process.  Heat generated during various brewing stages can be captured and repurposed with exchangers and heat recovery systems, enabling breweries to recycle waste heat for heating water, space, or other process requirements.

Brewers can work with equipment specialists to implement these technologies as well as collaborate on R&D to explore new ways to reduce energy consumption. We recently worked in conjunction with an independent brewer and a microbiological laboratory on a series of tests which found that cold rinsing techniques can be used to dramatically reduce energy costs without compromising quality or cleanliness. A similar curiosity in search of innovation could be applied to energy-intensive stages of the brewing process. The heating, cooling, and pumping required throughout these stages contribute to significant energy consumption.

Process optimisation is potentially transformative in minimising energy usage and waste. Brewers can carry out a thorough review of their production to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) unifying their approach across all processes, personnel, functions and resources. A skill matrix can map out the best coverage of skills across all departments to ensure that brewing schedules, water usage and management of temperatures are carried out with maximum efficiency. Facilitating knowledge and training in the optimum use of equipment will invariably deliver efficiencies.

Independent brewers are often like-minded in a collective spirit. They readily exchange knowledge and share best practice. That ethos can be applied to significant effect in achieving sustainability. There needs to be an industry-wide stewardship of environmental resources.

SIBA’s report has set out a roadmap in the journey to net zero. Collaboration between brewers, suppliers and communities will be fundamental in reaching the destination.