This is the first feature in the Sustainable Craft series, brought to you in partnership by Seven Generations Ahead and Chitown On Tap. Seven Generations Ahead produces the Oak Park Micro Brew Review, a zero-waste beer festival that raises funds to support its efforts to enable communities to create a sustainable future. To win tickets to the Oak Park Micro Brew Review, read through to the bottom of this page.
For this piece, I toured Goose Island’s Fulton Street production brewery with brand ambassador Ian Hughes, who also happens to be an environmental scientist. Below is our conversation, conducted via email.
Goose Island is the largest production brewery in the area by 100,000 barrels, so the impact of small changes it makes is huge when compared to any other brewery in town. In this sense, Goose Island may even have a responsibility for environmentally ethical leadership to innovate and demonstrate what’s possible to its growing peers. What are some of the ways that Goose Island has improved its environmental impact in the brewing process?
Mash- When brewers extract sugars from malted barley through the mashing process, they want to do it as efficiently as possible because greater efficiency means using less barley. Goose Island has upgraded to an optimized grain mill allowing us to achieve a more precise grind on our barley- this maximizes efficiency in the mash, reduces the amount of barley we use, and in turn reduces the carbon footprint of our beers.
Once the mashing process is complete, we are left with a large volume of “spent grains” that are essentially brewery waste. That volume varies from day to day at the Fulton Brewery depending on what and how much we are brewing, but we estimate that the average wet weight of spent grains is around 36,000 pounds per day. To eliminate this significant waste stream from our brewhouse we have partnered with a dairy farmer in northwest Indiana to haul our spent grains and use them as feed for his cattle. In concert with our robust recycling program, this results in over 96% of our solid waste being recycled or reused.
Brewing- After a vigorous one hour boil, we have to quickly cool the wort down in preparation for adding yeast and starting fermentation. To do this we use a plate heat exchanger- cold city water flows into the exchanger against the hot wort removing the heat energy. As the resultant hot city water leaves the exchanger, we recapture this water and energy in our hot liquor tank and reuse it for the subsequent mash. Both energy and water savings are realized in the process.
Another small but successful water efficiency addition to the brewhouse is a pair of high pressure, low flow cleaning nozzles that we installed in our whirlpool. Previously, a brewer would have to use a hose to spray the trub and spent hops from the manhole at the top of the whirlpool. The new nozzles are at the bottom of the whirlpool making them much more efficient. This also automates the process, removing the possibility of over spraying by staff.
Cellaring- Primary fermentation produces a large volume of yeast cells and while we do direct pitch from fermentor to fermentor, the residual yeast is currently sent to the drain. To help minimize concentrations of organic materials in our wastewater and reduce our strain on wastewater treatment facilities, we have begun investigating techniques for collecting and drying the residual yeast. Once dried, it will be incorporated into the spent grain that we send to the dairy farm for reuse as cattle feed.
Packaging- Buy local! Our water, labels, glue, master cartons boxes, bottles, bottle caps, and keg rings are all materials that are sourced within 300 miles of our plant. Additionally all of our main packaging materials incorporate recycled materials: bottles (30%), master carton boxes (22%), and 4 and 6 pack holders (100%).
Packaging processes can require a lot of water, so in an effort to minimize water use on the production side Goose Island staff are constantly identifying and implementing water reduction, recapture, and reuse projects. We have identified several projects to tackle, and have already completed the following:
- Internal bottle rinse- reducing spray nozzle orifice size by about 50% results in 1 million gallons of water saved per year and a more effective rinse
- Post-fill, external bottle rinse- water from the initial bottle rinse that previously went straight to the drain is now recaptured, then pumped to an external bottle rinse for a second use
Cleaning- While sanitation is an integral component of the brewing process, it can also be water intensive. As with packaging, our brewery staff have identified and implemented several water savings projects to minimize our water footprint associated with cleaning. We have fine tuned our clean-in-place system and now get up to 3 days worth of cleaning out of one batch of sanitizing solution. We also recapture our final fermentor rinse and reuse it for the initial rinse on the subsequent fermentor cleaning cycle. These two efficiency projects save approximately 332,000 gallons of water a year.
Additional Projects- Throughout our production facility, we have implemented a variety of other resource saving projects. Some of these projects include updating warehouse/office light fixtures with energy efficient bulbs and motion sensors, installing high speed bay doors for the cooler and external doors, and replacing our old blacktop roof with energy efficient/reflective white roofing. We also have an Environmental Sustainability Team made up of green employees that identify new ways to further our sustainability efforts, collaborate with local environmental organizations, and encourage employees to use alternative forms of transportation. Our most recent project with the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Commute Options pilot program will assess how our employees travel to work (cars, bikes, CTA, etc). This data will be used to develop a tailored plan encouraging our employees to leave their cars at home and adopt a greener mode of transportation.
Which of these measures would other local breweries be wise to adopt given their scale?
Almost all of these measures can (and should!) be adopted at any scale, though it will definitely take some fine tuning to tailor the projects for each facility. The most effective way to dive into these measures is to utilize a sustainability team or individual who can dedicate time and energy towards identifying, investigating, and implementing the efficiency projects. Whatever your size or motivation may be, it is prudent to incorporate sustainable practices into your brewing operations. Protecting and responsibly using the very resources you depend on to run a brewery is not only good business, it just makes sense.
The Green Line Project is the centerpiece of Goose Island’s sustainability efforts. Now that we’re well over a year since its launch, tell us about the company’s motivation for that project, its key components, and its impact and evolution so far.
Corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship have always been core principles at Goose Island, but the Green Line Project has really helped to propel our sustainability initiatives to a new level. It all started in 2009 when we partnered with the Chicago Manufacturing Center and the City of Chicago to develop a carbon footprint report for a 312 keg. The life cycle assessment details the CO2 emissions associated with every component of making a 312 keg- from growing and harvesting barley, wheat, and hops to the brewing process to delivering the finished beer.
We used this data to determine how we could brew a more sustainable beer, and from that inspiration the Green Line Project was born. The Green Line Project is the foundation for all of our sustainability initiatives and from this foundation grows several branches- consumer outreach and education, efficiencies projects at the brewery, our Environmental Sustainability Team, and local partnerships. These branches are constantly growing and as they do, the Green Line Project works its way into every aspect of our company.
It can be difficult conveying messages to consumers about carbon footprints and resource use, so being that we are a brewery and beer is the universal social lubricant, we developed the Green Line Pale Ale to help make delivering that message a lot easier. Drawing upon the following characteristics of the Green Line Pale Ale allows us to open up a conversation about sustainability with drinkers, retailers, and partners:
- Draught Only- kegs are reusable up to 150 times and eliminate large amounts of packaging waste.
- Chicago Only- by limiting distribution of Green Line to the Chicagoland area, we reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting and refrigerating beer over long distances.
- One Pint = One Square Foot- in an effort to further reduce our carbon footprint and preserve our natural resources, we have pledged a donation to The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre Program. That donation translates to one square foot of rainforest preserved (in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula) for every pint of Green Line that we sell.
There is a lot of speculation in town about Goose Island’s future, not least because of its acquisition by AB-InBev. Given that curiosity and even skepticism among some craft beer drinkers, where is Goose Island headed with its sustainability initiatives? Is this something that can survive the corporate cost-cutting that some suspect will hit the brewery in coming years?
The sustainability initiatives we’ve been focusing on are good for the environment and our bottom line, so we don’t expect any objections arising to these practices as a result of the AB deal. This is a great opportunity that opens a lot of doors for Goose Island and the one aspect in particular that I am very excited about is sustainability. After the Great Lakes Water Conservation Workshop this past April, I got to visit the AB brewery in St. Louis and discuss sustainable practices with a few of their brewers. It was amazing to learn that most of the AB breweries have a water used to beer produced ratio of around 3:1 – which is among the industry’s best. We have a lot to learn from them in that respect and I look forward to exploring their robust sustainability initiatives to see which projects are a good fit for Goose Island.
Additionally, with the help of our new partners we have already begun a much needed expansion at the brewery. We started construction on a “Matilda Room” to help us keep the Brettanomyces yeast strain isolated from the rest of the brewery. We will be installing several new fermentors to add capacity and allow for more beers like Matilda that require longer fermentation times to be produced. Once these fermentors are installed, we will be at maximum capacity at our current location.
So what’s next for Goose Island? On several occasions I have heard John Hall excitedly talk about building a bigger and better production facility (in Chicago of course) and making it the greenest brewery in the world. That being said, we might need to add another branch to the Green Line Project!
Readers of this piece will likely be interested in the enviornmental impact of the beer they chose to buy and drink–or not. What should they keep in mind?
I have three pieces of advice for those who want to drink sustainably- Drink informed, drink local, and drink draught!
We are giving away a pair of tickets to the Oak Park Micro Brew Review on Saturday, August 20. To be eligible, simply tweet a link to this page and include the hashtag #sustainablecraft. We will track tweets mentioning the Sustainable Craft series until we randomly pick and announce a winner on Wednesday, August 10. You can earn one entry into the giveaway for each Sustainable Craft article you tweet. Check back for four more articles in the series. You must be following @chitownontap and @SevenGensAhead to win. Must be 21+ and verify age to enter festival.
The Sustainable Craft series is brought you in partnership by Seven Generations Ahead and Chitown On Tap to promote sustainable initiatives in our local craft beer community. Seven Generations Ahead produces the Oak Park Micro Brew Review, a zero-waste beer festival that raises funds to support its efforts to enable communities to create a sustainable future.