How to Build a Sustainable Supply Chain for Your Craft Brewery
Sustainability efforts in craft brewing tend to focus on in-house operations—the equipment and processes we have direct control over. While that’s a great place to start, it’s not the only source of beer’s impact. In fact, the environmental impact of beer happens largely outside of the brewery walls in its upstream supply chain.
Last year, the Carey Institute’s Sustainable Communities Program in partnership with NYS Pollution Prevention Institute set out to learn more about beer’s upstream supply chain—its impacts and opportunities for sustainability. Our research led us to three upstream activities that generate a significant share of beer’s environmental footprint: barley agriculture, malting and packaging manufacturing. According to one study — a Lifecycle Assessment of a New Belgium Fat Tire Ale six-pack, these three upstream activities accounted for approximately 40 percent of the beer’s total Greenhouse Gas emissions, not to mention other impacts like water consumption and pollution. Similarly, a number of other studies found that activities in brewing’s upstream supply chain account for a large share of its environmental impact.
Image: Carey Institute for Global Good
The exact distribution of a brewery’s environmental footprint across upstream, onsite and downstream activities will vary based on its size, raw materials, packaging and distribution, but the overall message is still valid: if you are incorporating sustainability goals into your operation, consider looking upstream.
Start with Your Own Operation
We’re not saying you should overlook onsite sustainability. In fact, your own brewery is a great place to start because it gives you a framework for asking questions about your suppliers. For example, maybe you have goals and practices in place to reduce water consumption — what are your suppliers’ goals around water usage?
Get to Know Your Suppliers
Pushing your sustainability goals “upstream” means getting to know your suppliers better, which may not be an easy task. Use a Code of Conduct tool (COC) to navigate the process and determine what questions to ask. COCs are typically used by large companies who have more control over their supply chain, not small, individual businesses, however the benefit is that they provide a systematic and documentable approach to upstream sustainability. Your COC can be customized to your brewery’s existing sustainability goals and practices and will quickly identify opportunities for improvement. At a minimum, it’s a great way to learn more about your supply chain.
If you source materials from New York State, you might already know quite a bit about your suppliers, or it’s likely you can contact them and ask questions about their products and practices. Local suppliers may not serve 100 percent of your sourcing needs, but they do offer a unique opportunity to exercise supply-chain transparency and traceability.
Engage Your Customers
Sustainability is a market-growth opportunity — craft-beer drinkers want to support sustainable breweries. It’s very likely that you’re already doing things that reduce your upstream impact, which is worth documenting and sharing with your customers. Craft-beer drinkers also enjoy hearing the story behind the beer they’re drinking. A little knowledge of your supply chain and suppliers can go a long way in making your staff and brewery stand out.
Download the Guide
We created the guide as an easy-to-use resource with answers to the most common questions we have been asked in our work with breweries across New York State. We intend this to be a great starting point for anyone looking to foster a more sustainable craft-brewing industry.
To learn more, download the full report and the Code of Conduct tool. For assistance contact Rebecca Platel, Sustainable Communities Program Manager at the Carey Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or Patricia Donahue of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at email@example.com.
ABOUT THE CAREY INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL GOOD The Carey Institute for Global Good is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to building a strong, educated, and just society. Our Sustainable Communities Program seeks to advance the role of rural communities in sustainable and equitable development. We have worked to support the craft-brewing sector in rural New York State since 2012. Learn more about the Carey Institute: https://careyinstitute.org.
ABOUT NYSP2I The NYSP2I partners with businesses, municipalities, and communities in New York State to identify practical, cost-effective solutions for building sustainable supply chains. Our work is funded by New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). Learn more about NYSP2I: