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.
“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,” said Bolick. “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.”
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.