Sustainability is on the minds of most business leaders right now, and there are few industries where it’s of such importance as in brewing. For this reason, brewers – independent local businesses, especially – are working hard to address environmental concerns. But from raw materials to post-sales, there are still many challenges to address.
By Helen Hartley, Creative Director, Elmwood Leeds.
The circular economy
Tackling sustainability through the framework of the circular economy is a good way forward, as highlighted by Molson Coors in its sustainability report. “We’re applying circular economy thinking across our value chain by constantly challenging ourselves to find worth from waste,” the company states, adding its belief that sustainability is an opportunity to transform the way products are discarded, used and made.
Multiple examples demonstrate how the brewing industry is addressing every stage of the circular economy.
In the US, the Brewers Association recently launched initiatives to inspire craft brewers to embrace sustainable build and design, and US brewers are also finding ways to “upcycle” used grain to make breakfast cereals. In the UK, CAMRA’s Plastic-free July addresses waste at the sales stage. On top of this, when it comes to post-sales, brewers are looking at returnable bottles, removal of single-use items, and growler refills in taprooms.
It’s fair to say that UK independent brewers are leading the way on sustainability, especially in terms of their efficient use of ingredients and resources.
Warwickshire’s Purity Brewing is just one of a number of breweries making use of reed bed filtration to return water to the ecosystem, and it is also using self-clean systems to reduce water waste. Meanwhile, Leeds-based North Brewing Co has introduced various sustainability initiatives. These include a beer line chilling system by Brewfit that uses less energy as well as electric charging points for vehicles, motion sensor-controlled lighting and water recycling.
The rationale behind North Brewing’s new chilling system sums up the all-round benefits of embracing sustainability in company values.
“It’ll mean our beer is kept in better condition, we’ve more versatility over how we serve our beers, specific lines can be held at different temperatures, and we’ll use less energy, which is great for the environment and our bottom line,” North Brewing Director Christian Townsley says.
The company also identifies export of product – due to the lack of sustainability in container transport, collecting and recycling Keykegs – and general waste, as big issues that need to be addressed, demonstrating that sustainability comes in many forms.
As the industry awaits the UK government’s tax plans on plastics, it’s clear that the race is on to provide more sustainable solutions. But while new materials are coming on to the market, there is no point in moving headlong into these without a kerbside collection to ensure they do not go abroad to be dumped or into landfill.
Sustainability must be part of a brewer’s – in fact, any company’s – DNA if it’s to become a brand truth for consumers. And, while there are several ways for a brand to tackle sustainability, all bring their own opportunities and business challenges.
One solution is to invest in expertise. At Elmwood we recently hired Ian Schofield –
Iceland’s former Own Label and Packaging Manager, a trained packing technologist – as a Non-Executive Director. The assumption might be that, because of his background, he’ll focus on sustainable packaging solutions. But that’s far from the case.
Our belief is an expert on board can help us to help clients address sustainability through the supply chain, right to the consumer. Ian’s focus on understanding the connection between trends in climate change, resource scarcity, and then how this impacts consumer desire for sustainable brands and packaging is invaluable. He will also help us move into active and intelligent packaging and new materials, evolving away from fossil fuel materials and advise on the latest digital printing techniques which are now becoming commercial.
Beyond this, collaborating and partnering with experts provides an excellent learning opportunity for people in your business, especially if you’re operating on a smaller scale.
Culture and structure and how both impact on living your values as a company are also important. If you operate as a holistic team then it’s easier to achieve great things in terms of sustainability. That makes it worth considering issues such as ownership models.
In the US, for instance, we’ve seen the rise of brewers such as New Belgium Brewing, which is 100% employee-owned. It’s not for every business, but where there is autonomy for people in the company then it makes it more likely that sustainability is valued, enabling it to be woven throughout the business. This will also provide a way to connect with consumers, through team and company values as reflected in a brand truth.
With this in place, an organisation can then begin on the journey of defining or redefining its brand’s vision and values, taking a distinct point of view, creating a manifesto, assessing the iconicity of brand and assets, and developing a portfolio strategy. This then feeds into the business plan that will activate in several channels on and offline.
When underpinned by such a thorough approach, an emphasis on sustainability will bring firm benefits – both for the environment, and to the bottom line. In short, it will be good for business and good for the earth.
Helen Hartley is a beer and design expert, member of the Beer Writers Guild and Creative Director at brand consultancy Elmwood.