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Helping Iowa breweries embrace sustainability

This story is part of a series titled “Innovation in Cedar Valley,” an exploration of startups, individuals and innovative trends in the Cedar Valley. The series is sponsored by Launch Cedar Valley, a nonprofit connecting the starters, creators, and builders in the Cedar Valley.

Craft brewing has experienced exponential growth during the last two decades and in Iowa contributes around $1 billion and thousands of jobs to the economy, according to Brewers Association.

As the craft beer industry booms, adding more and more breweries every year, the need for resource management and sustainable brewing is also growing.  From the barrels of water needed to make a barrel of beer and the carbon emissions created from transporting the product to the waste created from packaging the product, there are a lot of ways the craft beverage industry can improve its sustainable practices.

So in 2016, the Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC), a Cedar Falls-based organization devoted to environmental consulting, assistance, training and education, surveyed 17 brewers across Iowa to find out what resources the center could provide and how it could best assist them.

Following that assessment, the IWRC launched the Iowa Green Brewery Certification in 2017. The program serves as a benchmarking tool that gives breweries a way to implement sustainable practices and help consumers understand those efforts.

It functions as a free service for Iowa breweries interested in implementing sustainable practices in the areas of:

  • Sustainable materials management and solid waste diversion away from the landfill;
  • Environmental compliance through exemptions to Iowa’s regulations;
  • Energy efficiency;
  • Water quality and conservation;
  • Environmental planning through development of standard operating procedures and best management practices.
Photo courtesy of Iowa Waste Reduction Center.

“Once a brewery calls us up, we’ll go onsite, we’ll sit down and talk with the owner a little bit, and we’ll do a walkthrough of the whole facility in the process, taking notes and making comments,” said Joe Bolick, Director of IWRC. “After that initial visit, we’ll come back to the office, we’ll go through our list, and then we’ll put together kind of a recommendations report for the brewery along with an initial score.”

Breweries can then implement the changes listed on the recommendations report to improve their score. Once a brewery is satisfied with where its score is, the IRWC will come back and will certify them with one of four levels of certification — bronze, silver, gold, or platinum.

The program’s points-based system scores each brewery’s sustainable practices and awards these achievements with a local press release, window clings and a certificate of achievement that promotes positive public relations, and continued support to help implement sustainable practices to increase scoring while decreasing negative impacts on the environment.

Bolick says that water waste is one of the biggest issues when it comes to Iowa breweries.

“Brewing is a massively water-intensive process. And we live in a state where water is fairly abundant and fairly cheap. It can go unnoticed to how much is being fairly easily,” he said. “So that’s one of the things that we really work with, making sure that these breweries are able to reuse some of that processed water. These breweries use these massive heat exchanges to quickly cool down their beer and generate a lot of clean, fresh hot water. If they’re just dumping that right down the drain that’s a complete waste. They can save that and use it and not have to heat it up as much for the next batch of beer that they’re making, or they can use it for their cleaning or things like that. So water reuse is a big thing we work with.”

Photo courtesy of Iowa Waste Reduction Center.

In 2014, the Iowa Brewers Guild, a nonprofit trade organization, included 58 member breweries. That number has since nearly doubled, reaching more than 100 breweries, as of this year.

Of the breweries with ratings, only three have earned platinum scores — SingleSpeed in Waterloo, Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City, and Exile Brewing Company in Des Moines.

To date, the program has 36 certified breweries listed on its site and is looking to continue to grow.

Helping Iowa breweries embrace sustainability | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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