Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three part series.
Although the production process of beer might cause large amounts of pollution without conscious owners, the ingredients that go into the product can cause just as much harm to the environment.
While some Michigan breweries target production to help keep the Earth healthy, others target what they use to make beer to stay sustainable.
The soon-to-be-open Grand Rapids Brewing Co., will be all organic, Michigan’s first of its kind. GRBC also will try to recycle and maintain sustainable practices in production, said Mark Sellers, owner of BarFly Ventures LLC, the holding company of GRBC.
Although organic carries weight with the title, Arbor Brewing Co., owner Matt Greff said organic doesn’t tell the whole story. Arbor Brewing gets about 85 percent of its ingredients from local farms.
“They can’t get certified organic for various reasons,” Greff said. “But they’re local, and we know where its coming from us. For us, it’s more important to support the local economy.”
But it isn’t proven which approach is better for the environment, according to Phil Howard, Michigan State University professor of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies.
Howard said both approaches are better than not doing anything, some owners might choose to go organic, preventing harsh chemicals from seeping into the ground. Others might choose to support local economy and prevent long-distance travel of ingredients.
Bell’s Brewery Inc., recently purchased an 80-acre farm in Michigan to provide barley for some select Michigan beers. The malts from the farm, along with hops from certain Michigan providers are used to make Christmas Ale, Harvest Ale and Midwestern Pale Ale.
“Agriculture is a huge thing in Michigan and it’s going away,” Bell’s Marketing Director Laura Bell said, “so part of us being sustainable, helping the economy, was to buy a farm.”
Bell said the company would look into more barley and hop farms in the future, but for now its just to see how the process works, but hops are a more expensive and difficult to grow.
“We just want to make sure the quality is there,” Bell said. “We’re trying to do as much as we can do that matches the level of quality we’re looking for.”
Bell’s works with local and national farmers to understand where the ingredients come from, selecting to go with sources that have the same values as the brewery, Bell said.
It’s all in the family
When it comes right down to it, the reason breweries, and other industries, chose to be sustainable is to keep the community healthy.
That doesn’t mean just the community and environment around the breweries and Michigan, but the employees within the companies.
Earlier this year, Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids did its part to be Earth friendly, becoming the first brewery in the United States to be LEED certified, but owner Jason Spaulding said that the philosophy runs deeper and the brewery’s community – customers and employees – are the focus.
Aside from using locally-sourced ingredients and the LEED certification, Vivant is committed to their philosophy.
Vivant located in a rundown building to help revive a neighborhood and plan on staying put in their facility at a capacity of 5,000 barrels. Vivant offers employees a birthday deal, where they get anything on the menu and a pitcher of beer, on the house. The company also commits to donating 10 percent of profits to good causes.
Bell’s also has a strong commitment to employees, and that’s following 62 new hires this summer, bringing the total to more than 100 employees.
“One part, is making sure we take care of employees, pay them well, treat them well, make sure we take care of our community,” Bell said. “Our customers, treat them well. It’s apart of the whole picture, we’re a big player around town.”
The deeper you look through breweries, it tends to just be in the beer. Many Michigan breweries take the initiative to be apart of the community and take care of it than a standard industry.
“It’s just a part of what you do,” Bell said. “It’s part of our culture. We’re not the type of people who just say screw it.”