Luke Livingston is a busy guy. The 28-year-old entrepreneur spends his days leading Baxter Brewing, the small brewing company that he started just a few years back in the small milltown of Lewiston, Maine. Baxter is in the middle of an expansion that will increase the company's production 400 percent and further grow his 14-person payroll. His small brewing company is headed for big things.
Luke first started tinkering with brewing beer while in college in Worcester, Mass., studying communications at Clark University. His first batches were brewed in his dorm room. He harnessed his overflowing passion for all things beer when he started up BlogAboutBeer.com, a respected beer site that he ran for just shy of four years.
In 2009, Luke quit his day job, sold BlogAboutBeer.com, and wrote a business plan for a brewing company. He raised $1.3 million with that plan and started up operations at the end of 2010. Baxter shipped its first case of beer in January 2011. Demand for Luke's beer has driven this current round of expansion funded by nearly $2 million in investment.
Baxter is literally breaking ground on new greener facilities.
The thing that I really like about Luke and Baxter Brewing is his passion for sustainability. He's held the tiller at Baxter with a greener hand from the start. One of the reasons Baxter eschews glass bottles in favor of aluminum cans is the can's lighter weight, which translates into less fossil fuels being used in transportation. They capture steam produced in the brewing process and condense it back into water, grabbing and reusing the heat of the steam along the way. Spent grains are used by farmers to feed their animals.
Luke and I run in a lot of the same social circles where I live in Portland, Maine, but I didn't really start paying attention to what he was doing in the realm of sustainable brewing until he started working with my friend John Rooks over at the SOAP Group. John and his team are the real deal when it comes to corporate sustainability. I know that a company is serious about pursuing true sustainability if they are working with SOAP. (Check out this story I wrote about the work that Baxter and SOAP are doing last month.)
Luke was kind to take time out of his day to answer some questions about how Baxter does green. Enjoy!
MNN: Why did you choose to build your brewery in Lewiston, a former mill town that is working to transition out of a long time economic slump?
Luke Livingston: The brewery is located in Lewiston, Maine, for a myriad of reasons: I grew up in the neighboring “twin city” of Auburn and wanted to give back to the community that I grew up in and that did so much for me as a youngster. Also, having grown up here and seeing these iconic textile mills which lined the downtown skyline sitting dormant and decaying, revitalizing one of them to house Baxter Brewing was of great appeal. Beyond that, something like 75 percent of the state’s population lives within an hour’s drive. And most importantly, the Lewiston-Auburn community has nearly an identical population to the city of Portland, which many people don’t realize, but had no packaging breweries (while Portland has several), so the opportunity to be a “big fish in a small pond” here was a no-brainer. There is a palpable cultural renaissance happening in this community right now, and it’s a really exciting time to play such a significant role in that revolution.
What does corporate sustainability mean to you?
I think corporate sustainability is a company’s responsibility to do as much as it is able – financially, logistically, etc. – to reduce its negative impact on the environment and the world around us. If a company can go beyond that to better the environment and maybe even look at sustainability as a source of secondary revenue, as many breweries including Baxter do, then they’re all the better for it. But at its core, corporate sustainability, to me as a business owner, is all about trying to have the least amount of negative impact on our world as I can.
Baxter has been growing like gangbusters since you started in 2011, and last year you announced an ambitious plan for further expansion. What kind of challenges and opportunities does rapid growth offer in terms of sustainable operations?
That’s right, we’re in the middle of a $2 million, 400 percent expansion right now, which is set to be completed in part within the next two weeks, and fully by April of 2014 right now. The challenges for incorporating a sustainability plan into that expansion are minimal really – not much beyond convincing investors to spend a few extra dollars along the way to make sure we’re doing things right; and in our case the added expense that comes along with construction and retrofitting a 160-plus year old building – while the opportunities are much greater. For instance, people always think it’s harder than it is, but when you’re digging up your facility anyway, what better time to go back and refurbish some equipment so that it can be “greener” moving forward? We’re doing that right now by retrofitting our brewhouse to run on steam power rather than propane.
What does the future hold for sustainable brewing?
I think the future for sustainable brewing is tremendous. There are now entire tracks of seminars dedicated to sustainable brewing at the Brewers Association’s annual Craft Brewers Conference (the largest such conference for the brewing industry in the country) and as more and more breweries prove that sustainability plans don’t have to be just about saving the planet, but can also be a source of secondary revenue – see recent articles on grain-to-fuel conversions at breweries like Alaskan, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada – convincing others to join the cause gets much easier. Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City went zero-waste in 2011 and actually made a net profit from the resale of their waste of $30,000, or an entire person’s salary. When you look at sustainable brewing like that, not just the environmental piece, it’s clearly not going anywhere.
Does the world need saving?
Yes, of course. If the world itself doesn’t need saving yet (although we’re arguably not far off) than at least the mindset of many around the world — citizens and businesses – does. And that saving can’t be done by any one person, company or brewery. Until we all stop taking the world around us for granted, we’re all doomed for failure. I do believe it can be done, but I’m an optimist.
Installing new tanks at their Lewiston, Maine, brew HQ.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
In the brewing industry itself – which is the business world I know the best – there are people doing good at every turn. But the breweries I admire the most for their sustainability efforts are the ones I mentioned above; Boulevard, New Belgium, Alaskan, Sierra Nevada. And even locally here in Maine, there’s a lot of good, green initiatives happening in our fellow breweries – Allagash offsets all of its power with American wind power credits like we do; and Maine Beer Company belongs to 1 % for the Planet. It’s a great industry to be a part of and support (as a brewer or a consumer) if your goal is a greener planet!
(Shea's note: I invited Luke to make up and answer his own question here)
It’s a Friday afternoon in the spring and I’m rushing to get this interview complete on time so I can get out of here, so what’s the one thing I’d rather be doing right now? Floating down the Androscoggin River in a kayak with an ice cold Summer Swelter in my hand, obviously. Cheers!