Beer and policy? Say what?

Beer and policy? Say what?

When I told my classmates and friends that I was going to do my environmental policy internship at a brewery, I received one of two reactions: incredulity or laughter. It was evident that, to my peers, the connection between environmental policy and brewing beer seemed tenuous at best. I am thrilled to report, three weeks into my internship with Sun King Brewing Company, that I have already used knowledge from every subject that we studied during our first year at Bard Center for Environmental Policy: economics, law, policy, science, and statistics. Somewhat counter intuitively, it seems more and more every day that the Bard CEP education was tailor-made for the sustainability analysis I am doing here at Sun King Brewery.

Photo Credit: Sun King Brewing Co.


SO, what is Sun King Brewery?

Sun King Brewery is the second largest brewery in Indiana, on target to produce around 29,000 barrels of beer (899,000 gallons) in 2014. Opened in 2009, Sun King was founded on the mission to bring Fresh•Local•Beer to the people of Indianapolis. From the beginning, the owners considered environmental impact when developing some of the defining characteristics of their business plan. First, they decided that they would never distribute outside of Indiana. Currently, Sun King is only sold within 70 miles of the brewery. This cuts down on emissions and the environmental impact associated with transportation. In addition, Sun King cans their beer rather than bottling it. This reduces the weight of shipment, makes better use of space in the trucks, and extends the life of the product.

I joined Sun King at an exciting time. On the first day of my internship, they announced plans for a new brewery, doubling their current production capacity. Everyone in the community was thrilled at this news, but I had additional reasons for excitement other than the prospect of more Sun King beer in more places. A new brewery, built from the ground up, offers the opportunity to construct a brewing process and facility with concern for environmental impact as opposed to retrofitting the current brewery to reduce its impact. We could build the new brewery right the first time, addressing some of the environmental concerns inherent in brewing from the beginning.


Bourbon barrels and fermentation tanks on the brew deck at Sun King Brewing Co.

Alright, I get the green construction thing, but how is beer related to environmental policy?

For those who are not well versed in the brewing process, let me give a brief overview to highlight the main resource and waste concerns that I deal with on a daily basis. Beer is made of 4 essential ingredients: water, grain, yeast, and hops.

Water makes up the vast majority of every beer, at least 90%. In addition to the large quantity of water that ends up in the beer, breweries consume between 3 and 10 times more water than the amount of beer produced. This additional water is used to clean the equipment as well as to ensure sanitary packaging.  For this reason, water conservation is an important environmental and economic issue for breweries, but just as important as the influent to the brewery is the effluent. Brewery wastewater is extremely high in organic matter from left over yeast, malt, and hops. This can put a strain on municipal sewage treatment plants and cause extreme ecosystem damage if discharged directly into surface waters. My main project at Sun King Brewing Co. is addressing this problem and looking for ways to avoid it at the new facility.

In addition to the environmental concerns resulting from the raw materials that come in and out, there is the issue of the energy needed to heat, cool, and move them around the brewery. Maximizing thermal and electric efficiency is a constant battle at breweries. Currently, I’m researching renewable energy installations in order to offset electricity costs and environmental impact.


Are you convinced?

So, while I’m not working for an environmental NGO or a congressional representative, I am absolutely working in environmental policy. If you’re not convinced yet, stay tuned for my next post. It will become blatantly obvious as I continue my work with Sun King Brewery, making science based environmental policy that is backed by cost benefit analysis. A job like that couldn’t fit any better into the Bard CEP paradigm.

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