Some people ride a bike instead of driving a car to reduce their contributions to climate change. Others shrink their carbon footprint by installing solar panels on their rooftops. Now, a Portland brewery has another suggestion: Drink low-carbon beer.
Migration Brewing introduced its new low-carbon brew on Thursday. It’s a variation on the brewery’s longtime red beer Blood, Sweat and Red, with half the carbon footprint. They call it the Little Foot Red.
To find out exactly how many carbon emissions were generated by the brewery’s traditional red, consultant Molly Hatfield of Hatfield Sustainability Resources did what’s called a life cycle assessment.
She tallied up all the carbon emissions generated over the course of the beer’s lifetime - including growing the ingredients, shipping them to the brewery, brewing the beer, packaging it and distributing it to customers.
The result? Hatfield found one keg of Migration’s Blood, Sweat and Red generates 124 pounds of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of driving around 137 miles in the average passenger vehicle. A pint packs as much CO2 equivalent as driving a little more than a mile.
Shrinking The Carbon Footprint of Beer
Once Hatfield calculated the carbon footprint of the standard red beer, she and Migration head brewer Mike Branes looked for ways to shrink it.
“I was just very surprised at how much emissions were created by one keg of beer,” Branes said. “I of course knew there was an impact on the environment. I did not know to what extent.”
About 80 percent of beer’s carbon footprint came from the brewery’s operations, mostly from energy use.
“Brewing involves a lot of heating water and cooling water and that’s very electricity and natural gas intensive,” Hatfield said.
To reduce those impacts, the brewery upgraded to high-efficiency water heaters and bought carbon offsets for its electricity use – not just for the Little Foot Red but for all their beers. The offsets buy renewable energy to make up for the emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants.
Hatfield’s study found 15 percent of the beer’s carbon footprint came from growing and transporting the barley that goes into the beer; some of the barley in the Blood, Sweat and Red was coming from as far away as the UK.
So Branes agreed to change his recipe and switch to a local, organic barley. That cut down on the emissions from growing the barley and shipping it.
The brewery also decided not to bottle the beer or distribute it beyond the brewery to eliminate those emissions entirely.
A Climate Change Conversation-Starter
Lowering the carbon footprint of the beer did not lower the cost, according to Fletcher Beaudoin, who led the low-carbon beer project for the Oregon Environmental Council. He says the higher cost of making the beer wasn’t as important as the message it’s sending.
“You know climate change and carbon emissions is a really hard topic to talk about sometimes,” he said. “So we came together and talked about this idea of beer as being something that is very tangible. Something a lot of people engage with on a daily basis.”
Beaudoin said he hopes getting people to be carbon conscious about the beer they drink will also get them to start thinking about all the other emissions they generate through everyday activities.
“Really, the big thing for me is to walk away with a conversation about the topic of climate change and carbon emissions in Oregon,” he said.