By Nick Bastis
Chicago has some of the nation’s least expensive and highest quality water — and that good fortune isn’t lost on Goose Island Beer Company. After all, the cost and quality of a beer directly relies upon the cost and quality of its most voluminous ingredient: water.
Known for locally-brewed, award-winning beers such as 312 and Bourbon County Stout, Goose Island is constantly seeking to raise the benchmark not only for great-tasting brews, but also for sustainable brewing strategies. By closely monitoring their water and energy consumption, both during their brewing and distribution processes, which together account for some 54 percent of a keg of beer’s carbon footprint, Goose Island has taken several steps to minimize their water usage and save on utility costs – something they, their customers, and the international brewing community can all raise a pint to.
According to Tom Korder, Goose Island’s brewery operations manager, the City of Chicago provided Goose Island with funding support to commission the Chicago Manufacturing Center to perform a product life cycle analysis of a keg of Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat Ale and assess the keg’s carbon footprint. “With the results from the report, Goose Island had the means to evaluate the impact our kegged beer has on the environment,” said Korder. “From that point, we were able to identify several areas of the brewery that needed our attention and directly address those.”
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Watch this slideshow featuring Goose Island’s brewing process. / Photos by Emily Cikanek and Nick Bastis
For instance, they found and began acting on ways to save water that is used to clean bottles and fermentation tanks, where beer develops its alcohol content. Goose Island saves the water used during a previous tank cleaning’s final stage and reuses it for the next cleaning’s first stage. In this way, the brewery operates internally like an eco-industrial park: When a resource from one process no longer can be used in a specific way, it is then passed on to another part of the brewery to be used for a slightly different purpose. Likewise, when water is used to clean the inside of a new bottle, that water could be saved to clean the outside of the bottle once it is filled with beer (a strategy Goose Island is currently pursuing).
Goose Island’s research also led to the development of the first of their Green Line products, the Green Line Pale Ale. It’s not only a crisp, slightly bitter American pale ale with balanced hops and citrus flavor – it’s also a fun way to educate their customers about the company’s sustainable initiatives. “We find that beer is more engaging than data,” said Korder with a chuckle. “With Green Line Pale Ale, Goose Island has a way to introduce drinkers, retailers and its partners to many of the less tangible concepts involved in making the brewery a more sustainable part of its community.”
Since Green Line Pale Ale is brand new, Goose Island doesn’t yet have all the data from its suppliers to measure the ale’s carbon footprint. As soon as the data becomes available, it will be published and will replace the 312 carbon footprint assessment currently available on Goose Island’s site; and the company will updates its progress every six months.
In addition, for every pint of Green Line Pale Ale poured, Goose Island will make a donation to the Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre® program, to protect one square foot of rainforest in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.
Goose Island also continues to monitor its water use on a monthly basis. “We chart our water usage versus product produced to determine how the brewery is performing now versus past usage and industry standards,” said Korder.
While some large water users negotiate for a flat monthly fee for water — which is helpful for both the business and the utility in planning finances, but does not necessarily encourage efficient water use — Goose Island actually pays a volumetric rate. This means that if the company uses more water, it pays for more water, and vice versa. On the other end, Goose Island’s bill for wastewater treatment is directly tied to both the volume and quality of the water (and beer) they dispose of – a spoiled batch of beer is lost profit, wasted water, and a hefty sewage bill – so the incentive to reduce waste and contamination pervades the entire brewing and bottling process.
While the results of their consumption reduction strategies have yielded some financial benefits, their motive isn’t just about their bottom line. Goose Island understands that the beer they brew and the community where they brew it truly are inseparable. “We believe that being an environmentally conscious company is part of our core values and that will continue to drive our sustainability efforts. The financial part is just gravy,” said Korder. A corporate culture of efficiency and stewardship will be imperative as water becomes a bigger driver of economic development in the region, and Goose Island will be a model for many. “Sure, it’s great to see the dollars and cents that come from one of our ‘green’ projects, but if the Great Lakes region uses all of the water available to us, then we will no longer have water to use for our beer. That’s more important to Goose Island than the ROI.”
Learn more about Goose Island’s Green Line Project on the web.
18,768,260 gallons per year
Like all brewers, Goose Island Beer Company requires lots of water to produce great beer.
6:1 water to beer ratio
The average brewer uses about 6 gallons of water for every 1 gallon of beer produced. Goose Island is at a 5:1 ratio and is trying to improve that ratio even more through its Green Line Project.
$1.86 for one gallon
Goose Island’s approximate sales generated from each gallon of input water. Used wisely, our region’s water has immense economic development potential.
- Use and reuse. Water from your sink, bath or shower often doesn’t need to go right down the drain. Fill your toilet tank with it, or even water houseplants (but make sure you use environmentally friendly soap).
- Read your bill. Some water bills give a detailed breakdown of the costs of providing water – fire protection, treatment, pumpage, conservation programs, etc. Knowing the costs of your water, not just the price, will help you and your community make more informed decisions.
- Beat your bill. Many water bills also show month-to-month use comparisons. Challenge yourself and your family to a conservation goal and then reward yourselves if you hit it. If your community doesn’t send monthly bills, request them.
Guidelines for Water Reuse, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Water 2050: Northeastern Illinois Water Supply/Demand Plan (Chapter 4, pages 134–140), Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
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