It was only a matter of time before suds producers embraced eco-friendly beer making.

And it’s no surprise that the largest breweries, which have the longest history and the greatest resources, have developed ambitious environmental goals. But arguably some of the newer breweries, including Sierra [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords] Brewing Co., lead the pack by showing an earlier commitment to being eco-friendly and a spirit of innovation in achieving their goals.

Like many beverage-makers, breweries are striving to reduce or recycle the one ingredient that’s central to their products: water. Many beer-makers are also developing sustainable packaging. And like companies everywhere, breweries are lowering their carbon emissions.

Here are a few brewers that are giving meaning to eco-friendly beer making:

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Anheuser-Busch InBev is the largest beer-maker in the U.S., according to the nonprofit Brewers Association. So it’s not a surprise that its commitment to eco-friendly beer making is no small endeavor.

In 2010, Anheuser-Busch launched an ambitious three-year plan to reduce water usage, lower carbon emissions and increase recycling.

By 2012, the company has pledged to achieve a water-to-beer ratio of 3.5 hectoliters of water per every hectoliter of beer or other drink that’s produced. It will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent per hectoliter of beverage produced. And it hopes to be recycling 99 percent of the waste created during production by 2012.

These goals are designed to build on the company’s existing environmental milestones. Since 2007, the company has reduced its water-to-beer ratio by 14.5 percent. In 2009, Anheuser-Busch recycled 98 percent of the waste produced during the manufacturing process.

Individual plants have already exceeded company-wide goals. A plant in Brazil derived 30 percent of its heating fuel from biomass in 2009. Plants in Fairfield, Calif., and Newark, N.J., have installed solar panels to provide an alternate power source. And Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery harnesses 70 percent of the fuel it needs from a combination of methane obtained from a nearby landfill, and methane that’s captured from water left over from the brewing process.

For more information, read Anheuser-Busch InBev's corporate responsibility report.

MillerCoors

When it comes to eco-friendly beer making, MillerCoors makes recycling a top priority.

The second-largest beer-maker in the U.S., the company reuses or recycles 98 percent of the waste created by its breweries. The company recycles glass, paperboard, plastics, metals and other byproducts.

Leftover barley malt, or spent grain, is sold to local farms for animal feed. The company sells brewers’ yeast to food companies to be used in canned soups, frozen entrees and pet food. Other byproducts are used to fertilize fields at the company’s production facilities.

In some cases, MillerCoors’ employees have taken the lead. At the company’s Georgia brewery, employees formed a recycling and sustainability team. They created a wood recycling program that converts wood scrap into yard mulch. The team also recycles plastic, including hard hats and safety glasses.

Water usage is also key. Its Texas brewery has achieved a notable water-to-beer ratio of 3.59 barrels of water for each barrel of beer produced. Other breweries in its fleet have a water-to-beer ratio of about four to one.

MillerCoors has also tackled packaging. The company uses 11 percent less cardboard for its 12-pack bottled folding cartons at two of its breweries. That will save the equivalent of 20,700 trees a year. The company has also reduced the diameter of the end of the aluminum cans it uses to sell its beer. Annually, that reduction saves 10.4 million pounds of aluminum.

For more information, visit: MillerCoor's Sustainability report.

Sierra [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords] and other smaller breweries

Sierra [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords] of Chico, Calif., only began brewing beer in 1980, which is late in the game compared to MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch. But it’s already the No. 6 beer producer in the U.S. in terms of volume, according to the Brewers Association. And it’s moved quickly to embrace eco-friendly beer making.

In 2008, it finished building what it calls one of the largest private solar arrays in the U.S. The solar panels, in conjunction with an existing fuel cell, provide most of the electrical energy the brewery needs to operate. That means Sierra [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords] produces most of its own energy on-site, and most of the energy it uses is “clean.” The company said the solar array brings it close to its long-term goal of meeting 100 percent of its energy needs in a sustainable way.

Other so-called craft brewers have also incorporated eco-friendly procedures into the beer production process.

For example, New Belgium Brewing Co., which makes Fat Tire, began harnessing wind power in 1999 to meet its energy needs. At the time, the Fort Collins, Colo., company was the largest private consumer of wind power and the first wind-powered brewery.

For more information on Sierra [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords], visit the solar section of its website.

To learn more about New Belgium’s eco-friendly beer making, visit the sustainability section of its website.

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See also:

Beer recipes