Sustainable Brewing at Brooklyn Brewery

Acting sustainably seems to come naturally to Eric Ottaway, General Manager at Brooklyn Brewery, a privately owned craft brewery with manufacturing facilities in the heart of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York and in Utica, upstate New York. Eric Ottaway joined A Clean Future for our monthly webinar to discuss Brooklyn Brewery’s sustainability efforts and approach.Brooklyn Brewery Logo

“Acting sustainably seems so obvious, we just do it. We don’t need a financial case to tell us that,” said Ottaway.

Because they are a privately-owned business, Brooklyn Brewery can examine their sustainability efforts from a long-run perspective. The potential to receive financial returns, or more generally benefit the community makes it worth the up-front investment.

“Even if we pay a 15% premium for wind-powered renewable electricity or a minor premium for using compostable drinking cups, or chemical-free supplies, there is no doubt we should do it because it will pay back in the long run,” said Ottaway.

Other sustainable initiatives are profitable in the short-run, directly from day one such as selling spent grain, the by-product from beer manufacturing, to farmers. The farmers then feed the nutritious grains to their livestock, turning what otherwise would have been waste into something useful.

Brooklyn Brewery was the first New York City-based company to use 100% wind power to cover its electric energy needs. Though the company doesn’t produce its own wind power, the brewery pays a premium rate to Community Energy so that the kilowatt-hours it uses from the current grid in are replaced by energy produced at a wind farm located in Madison County, in upstate New York.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions weren’t the only reason Brooklyn Brewery decided to buy all of its energy from renewable sources.

“It all started as an outgrowth of a community effort to keep a big, new power plant from being built nearby in our neighborhood. At the same time, power has to come from somewhere. About that same time we were approached by a group called Community Energy that was trying to help NYC companies convert to wind power so they could build more wind turbines. They asked us if we would consider a 5% purchase of wind-generated energy. We asked ourselves – why not go 100%? It was kind of a statement,” said Ottaway.

According to Ottaway, the great media response was just a good side-effect. Brooklyn Brewery hardly communicates its sustainability involvements. Eric Ottaway almost averts sustainability as a selling point because in his experience, the companies who talk the most often tend to do the least.  At Brooklyn Brewery, sustainability is already incorporated into everyday operations, and their motto is: do more, talk less.

Other sustainability initiatives include recycling all paper, plastic and glass bottles, recycling water from the brew house, and recovering heat. It has also installed more efficient boilers and insulated all pipes with high-tech foam glass.

In terms of logistics, Brooklyn Brewery invested in a new warehouse to more efficiently allocate distribution and minimize transportation. They also developed cooperation with Heineken’s distributor to re-route Heineken’s shipments from New Jersey to Red Hook, Brooklyn. This takes 10,000 truckloads off the road each year.

The brewery’s location in a residential, urban area also encourages them to act as a good community member.  The company donates money to various organizations such as Prospect Park Alliance and to museums, galleries and small non-profits. A local furniture manufacturer makes furniture out of Brooklyn Brewery’s broken pallets.

At the same time, their location also limits some of their sustainability options. Brooklyn Brewery applauds innovations like bio-digesters and on-site power generation, but there simply isn’t enough room in an urban environment to pursue these practices themselves. Also locally sourcing the ingredients is also difficult as the tastiest grains, just like grapes for wine, come from very specific regions of the world. But the brewing industry is highly collaborative and Brooklyn Brewery works with other brewers to share best practices in the hopes that even these ideas get implemented somewhere.

In the future, Brooklyn brewery will continue striving to make their business more environmentally sustainable. The company is looking into solar power and the possibility of re-using bottles (think 1950’s milk man). The environmental impact and costs of re-using bottles versus using new bottles faces not just a fiscal evaluation, but possibly a shift in consumer expectations as well because previously used bottles aren’t as attractive looking from a consumer perspective.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the beer. Working with a product that relies on a healthy environment and encourages a sense of community makes sustainability an easy sell at Brooklyn Brewery. Acting as a green, good neighbor just follows naturally.

For more information on sustainability in the brewing sector, please write us at: info@acleanfuture.com.

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About Brooklyn Brewery:

Brooklyn Brewery was founded in 1998. The beers are currently distributed in 25 states and 20 countries. Current production is 180,000 barrels a year. Throughout 2011 the Brewery underwent an expansion that allowed double overall capacity in 2012 and quintuple capacity by 2014.

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