Karl Hayes looks at four breweries and their different approaches to tackling climate change in a modern production brewery
We have reached the stage of climate emergency known in scientific circles as the ‘oh fuck’ moment. (For the record, I’m not a scientist). It is generally agreed that swift, decisive action is required to reduce carbon emissions and stop the planet heating up. So now is a good time to have a look the diverse ways breweries have gone about reducing carbon footprints, achieving Carbon Neutral Certification, and/or just doing their bit to help prevent climate change. This article will also cover some of the other key players involved.
Two important points to note.
- This is not an exhaustive list of breweries that have solid green credentials.
- Though the approaches, philosophies and drivers for each brewery are different, all should be congratulated and supported for the changes they have fostered. To borrow a quote from the Sawmill website “We don’t need a handful of people doing sustainability perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Sawmill are New Zealand’s only B Corp certified brewery, joining famous international institutions such as Allagash, BrewDog, New Belgium, Camden Town and Stone & Wood. Owners Mike Sutherland and Kirsty McKay have driven innovation in reducing carbon emissions and increasing sustainability across their brewery and taproom in Matakana. (Please visit — it’s wonderful).
Mike’s ideology is that certifying carbon neutral is great but of more importance to the industry and its future are the steps we are all taking to reduce our carbon footprint. Current projects for both brewery and taproom cover waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency and reduced dependency on fossil fuels. A lot of small wins and significant cumulative effect — their waste to landfill is less than 10kg per week, they capture a million litres of water from their roof, use hybrid vehicles, filter out and compost the hop residue, recycle the backing of the labels taking two tonnes of plastic out of landfill a year … everything adds up.
Not resting on their laurels, Sawmill have an incredible bunch of projects either in the pipeline or at advanced planning stages: an Earthly Labs Carbon Recapture System (see below) which will harvest 70% of the CO2 by-product of fermentation; a solar farm to meet the electricity needs of the brewery and taproom; biogas generated through the wastewater treatment will be captured and returned for use in the brewery as process heat; and a project to discharge wastewater into restored natural wetlands. Both of the last two are with assistance from, and collaboration with NIWA.
Mike is a true evangelist for the future of sustainable brewing and is very approachable and helpful.
Garage Project achieved Zero Carbon Business Operations Certification in 2019, 2020 and 2021, making it one of the first breweries to do so in New Zealand. This feat consists of measuring the carbon footprint of their brewery (including beer brewed under contract elsewhere), freight and storage, hospitality venues and office spaces, working on annual reduction, and purchasing carbon credits to offset the remainder.
A key business goal for Garage Project is the reduction of carbon released per litre of beer produced. Emission reduction projects include minimising waste, use of renewable energy companies, freight and transport optimisation, installing LED lighting and a raft of other measures. As with Sawmill, they are keen to help other breweries improve their sustainability practices.
The certification process is managed by Steve Almond, Sustainability Manager at GP, and EKOS (see below) and the process takes around a month, one to two days per week to collect the data. Last year offsets were purchased both locally (~40% spread over two projects in Golden Bay and Southland) and from Papua New Guinea (~60% from a reforestation project which helps protect indigenous peoples). For 2021, 100% of credits were from Papua New Guinea projects.
Garage Project has also ordered the Earthly Labs Carbon Recapture System.
Eddyline’s credentials in carbon reduction are truly commendable — 63KW of solar panels account for most of the brewery’s energy usage, water usage is way below the industry average, and energy (hot water) is captured from their heat exchanger and glycol systems. Their business roadmap includes an eventual B Corp Certification. Owner Mic Heynekamp is rightly proud of his achievements to date and happy to share his story in order to encourage breweries of similar size to follow suit.
Mic’s background in geology gives him an understanding of the fragility of our CO2 supply on which his business is dependent. It is used for carbonating beer before packaging, cleaning brewing vessels and kegs, and even as the refrigerant in their glycol system. Before the recent CO2 shortages, Eddyline ordered the CiCi Carbon Capture system which will recycle, refine and liquefy the CO2 by-product of fermentation. At roughly 200,000 litres of beer produced annually, this will recover the equivalent of 7.5 tonnes of CO2 and will scale to Eddyline’s production target of a half million litres per year. Excess CO2 will be sold to local businesses in the area.
No introduction needed, but here’s one anyway — Lion runs the largest brewery in New Zealand, The Pride in East Tamaki, with a capacity of over a half million litres per day — as well as Panhead, Emerson’s, Speight’s, Havana Coffee Works and Wither Hills. They were the first brewing entity in New Zealand to claim Carbon Zero Certification with Toitū Envirocare as their certifier. Similar to Garage Project, Lion have previously used New Zealand-based projects to offset some of their footprint but now exclusively use the Renewable Wind project in India.
Lion have some incredible stories in their Sustainability Report 2021 titled Force For Good, which reports on the group’s operations across Australia and New Zealand. Highlights are a 28% reduction of carbon emissions and a miserly 3.5 litres of water used for each litre of beer produced (that’s about a third of the industry standard). In 2020, during significant draught conditions in Auckland, The Pride implemented initiatives that resulted a 10% reduction in overall water use as well as improvement in water efficiency; improvements which have been maintained.
Both The Pride and Speight’s breweries have systems to capture all CO2 from fermentation. The CO2 is scrubbed, liquified and stored on site for re-use in the production. At The Pride, they have over 100 tonnes of CO2 storage capacity and have been self-sufficient for the past four years.
Earthly Labs Carbon Recapture System
Earthly Labs, now part of Chart Industries, is a US company based in Austin Texas. Their CiCi CO2 capture solution allows breweries to harvest and refine CO2 which is a by-product of fermentation. Each 50L keg of 5% ABV beer emits 2kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. The CiCi is able to refine for re-use about 70% of this.
So far, six New Zealand breweries have ordered this system and that number is sure to increase as our CO2 supply has been hit by the lack of production at Tiwai Point.
It is important to note that CO2 recovery will not have an effect of reducing on-paper carbon emissions for Carbon Neutral Certification purposes. CO2 release during fermentation does not count towards a brewery’s carbon footprint as it is calculated as an upstream carbon load.
EECA’s Brewing Decarbonisation Pathway
EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) is helping New Zealand breweries reduce their energy-related emissions through a newly launched Brewing Decarbonisation Pathway.
The five-step pathway, developed with the Brewer’s Guild of New Zealand, supports breweries through knowledge sharing and encourages collective action to reduce the industry’s contribution to climate change.
Further information from Glenn Wellington (EECA Manager Products and Partnerships) reveals that “while the end goal is to move away from fossil fuels, the pathway focuses on achievable steps to improve existing processes, equipment and operations that will make the transition simpler and more cost-effective.”
This project aims to reduce the brewing industry’s dependency on fossil fuels, a single but very important part of the overall carbon footprint.
Finally a Q&A with Cristina Barraclough, Carbon Management Administrator at Ekos, the certifier used by Garage Project.
KH. Do you have a rough guide for estimating the initial cost (in terms of external consultancy and internal effort) of Carbon Neutral Certification? Is it loosely based on (for instance) the number of FTEs or turnover?
CB. For a food & beverage organisation, measurement would often start at around $3,000-$4,000 ($4k more likely). Our cost is based on the scope (extent) of the organisation’s organisation. In other words, how complex the operation is. We can also provide reduction workshops either online or in-person, to help organisations identify emission reduction initiatives that provide the best value for money.
KH. Would you have an estimate on the effort involved for your client in capturing the data required for annual calculations of their carbon footprint?
CB. Yes, the data collection process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This timeframe tends to be governed by the availability and accessibility of the required information. Ekos can help an organisation to develop appropriate tracking systems for information that is not available, or hard to locate.
KH. Does your company advise on the available options for offsetting residual carbon emissions?
CB. Yes. We provide forest carbon credits from our own supply chain, which include projects in Aotearoa, and the South Pacific. For more information on our projects visit the Ekos website: www.ekos.co.nz/projects. You can also watch the BusinessNZ Webinar series on Carbon Management. Part 4 is on offsets.
KH Are there any safeguards against NZ companies using low integrity carbon credits?
CB. We strongly advocate that NZ companies who certify through us use high integrity credits. We are in the process of moving to a requirement that any credits purchased need to at minimum meet the social cost of carbon (as defined by NZ Treasury Social Cost of Carbon) for their industry.
KH. I understand that the process of brewing produces CO2 as a by-product of fermentation. As this carbon is absorbed by the crops (mostly barley) upstream of the brewery, it is not included in the brewery’s carbon footprint. If a brewery were to capture and refine this by-product for use internally or for resale, would it count as a carbon credit?
CB. This is a complex question to answer. Under the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS), it is highly unlikely, though not impossible, that this would be recognised as a credit. Whilst there is provision in the Scheme for new categories of NZU to enter none exist today (other than forestry sequestration and government allocations) and a whole lot of research would be needed, plus general agreement that it should be recognised. The very fact that no other category exists today gives an indication of the level of the challenge. Eddyline in Nelson that is already doing this, but they are treating it as a pure sustainability initiative, which I think is the right approach for now.
Both of the major players in the NZ beer industry have implemented sustainability strategies. (Sorry DB for not including you in this article but kudos for your plan to halve emissions by 2030 and progress achieved thus far). Along with a smattering of other breweries, the vast majority of the beer in this country is brewed with carbon reduction as a key driver.
There’s a lot more that can be done though. Smaller craft breweries need to get on board in greater numbers. Remember the quote above from the Sawmill website? It doesn’t have to be perfect and none of the breweries featured above would claim to have a perfect approach. It just needs to be pervasive within the industry. At the moment, the evangelists are the outliers where it should be the case that the majority of breweries are implementing sustainability plans and helping other breweries to start. There’s a clear opportunity here to present the brewing industry as at the coalface of sustainability in New Zealand, leading the way for other industries.
A few folk may call out advertising of sustainability programs as “green-washing” but to them, I say “who cares?”. Regardless of the motives, breweries that are kinder to the environment deserve our support and patronage. And you, dear reader, can enjoy the can of Ghost Light, Sawmill Pilsner, Supercharger, or Crank Yanker and congratulate yourself for helping save the planet.