Are Breweries Ground Zero For Climate Change?

What happens when a would-be environmental attorney and a self-declared “lifelong do-gooder and policy junkie” go into craft brewing? They launch Fremont Brewing, one of Washington State’s most sustainable small breweries.

“We’re known as the ‘green microbrewery’,” says co-owner Sara Nelson. Fremont is serious about environmental and social sustainability. The company reduces its carbon footprint through energy conservation and zero waste production processes. Plus, the company donates to local environmental, educational and social justice non-profits. Nelson believes Fremont’s green reputation boosts local sales, but sustainable beer isn’t a marketing ploy. The company relies on hops, grain and water for production and the effects of climate change on local agriculture is a real and present danger.

Speaking of climate change, “brewing can be ground zero for impact,” says Nelson. The beer-making process requires huge amounts of energy for heating and cooling and it produces CO2 during fermentation. Plus, it produces mountains of spent grain—solid waste that needs to be removed after each batch. But choosing sustainability is hard for a brewer, especially a small outfit that can’t afford to invest in expensive, greener equipment. Fremont gives its spent grain to farmers for animal feed but they would prefer to dispose of it on site in an anaerobic digester that could produce energy but that technology is prohibitively expensive. Fremont also has its eye on a C02 recapture system that compresses the gas produced during the fermentation process for use at the end of production to keep beer carbonated. But, that’s almost a million dollar investment.

“If small breweries, like Fremont, collectively incentivize tech companies to innovate and build scalable, affordable green tech for our sector, beer making will become a lot more sustainable,” says Nelson.

Breweries are also building economic and political power across the state, and around the country. “We want Washington policy makers to hear the message that many businesses in Washington State want to be environmentally sustainable because it’s the right thing to do. Businesses like ours are giving legislators the cover to be bold and pass policies that fight climate change.”

Fremont will soon expand from its 8,000 square foot production facility to an 80,000 square foot location in Ballard. As they grow, Nelson says they’ll take every opportunity they can to make the most sustainable beer possible.

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