Microbrewery goes green to make its brews

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Capital News Service
LANSING — In a trendy neighborhood in downtown Grand Rapids, the Brewery Vivant in an old funeral parlor boasts original hardwood detailing, ornate stained glass windows – and Belgian-inspired farmhouse beer, escargot and duck nachos.
And it contributes to the environment.

Photo credit: Becky McKendry

Photo credit: Becky McKendry

In only its second year of business, Brewery Vivant has established itself as one of the leading eco-friendly breweries in the nation, and was the first in to become Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, a standard for high-performing green buildings.

It’s also one of only six Michigan breweries to can their beer, along with Keweenaw Brewing Co. of Houghton; MillKing It Productions of Royal Oak; Rochester Mills Production Brewery of Auburn Hills; Atwater Brewery of Detroit; and Perrin Brewing Co. of Comstock Park. Cans contain higher percentages of recycled material than bottles do and are more likely to be recycled.
“Every business wants to be profitable, but we’re also going to do things that are environmentally sound,” said Kris Spaulding, co-owner of Brewery Vivant. “It’s in our DNA, you know.”
Spaulding heads the brewery’s environmental efforts. When she and husband/co-owner Jason Spaulding envisioned Vivant, they decided on three cornerstones:
“The goal of Vivant was to center around Belgian- and French-inspired beer, expert pairings of beer and food, and being environmentally conscious and socially responsible,” she said. “Sustainability was a non-question.”
Low-flow toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs are standard for going green. But Brewery Vivant has taken non-traditional steps as well.
“We make a ton of fries and of course, end up with a bunch of fryer oil,” Spaulding said. “So I put something out on our Facebook page asking if anyone could use it. We were referred to some local guy, and now we donate it to him and he runs his truck off of it.
“Down the line, I’d love to explore if we could even have our company car run off of fryer oil too.”
Another common practice in brewing is to donate used grains to farmers to feed their cows, Spaulding said. Vivant donates grain to a farmer who raises show and rodeo cattle. But brewery officials would eventually like to improve that system.
“We’re hoping to have a closed loop system,” she said. “Hopefully soon we can start giving the grains directly to a farm that we’re going to purchase meat from and create that closed loop of resources.”
Brewery Vivant works with Green Brewery Project, a nonprofit consulting organization that audits breweries for water and energy use.
Green Brewery Project director Jarett Diamond of Ann Arbor said, “We’ve put together a plan to look at different areas – the way they brew, the building and how they handle waste products
“We’re going to come up with a plan together to add to their already very impressive sustainability program and take it to the next level,” Diamond said.
The project will install sensors to measure how much energy is used by the brewery and to target improvement.
Diamond said another component of the plan is to explain progress and goals to customers by publicizing the brewery’s ambitions.
Brewery Vivant’s first sustainability report for 2011 covers such topics as how it donates profits and buys local resources.
“It’s something I found interesting about Vivant,” Diamond said. “Many breweries have a local focus, and it’s one thing to say ‘we’re local and sustainable,’ but it’s another to be able to articulate it as well as Vivant has done.”
There are challenges ahead.
Spaulding said, “We definitely want to focus on a couple key things for this next year. There’s the 3-to-1 ratio for water which is three gallons of water needed to make every gallon of beer. It’ll be really hard to get to, and we did that on purpose. We aim high.”
The industry average is around five gallons of water to make one gallon of beer, according to Spaulding.
All employees must attend a Sustainability 101 course Spaulding teaches. It covers LEED certification, building features and recycling practices.
“Sustainability is what we founded this company on,” she said. “We want everyone that works for us to know what that means and to be comfortable explaining that to anyone. And we want them to explain it in a personal way that means something to them.”
The brewery has a partnership of sorts with Tree Huggers, a nearby business that takes otherwise unrecyclable materials like CDs and toothbrushes and outsources them to other companies for reuse.
Spaulding said she encourages staff to bring in such materials so she can later take them to Tree Huggers.
Diamond said, “There’s a very particular willingness to adopt more sustainable practices in the craft beer industry than others I see. I think it has to do with the rationale behind the industry – it’s focused on quality and the local community rather than creating a large, national brand.”
Spaulding said she looks forward to the opportunities offered by sustainability efforts.
“Craft breweries are ridiculously booming right now, and I think a lot of them are out there to be environmentally friendly, and that drives innovation. The brewing systems and different machines will evolve to be more environmentally conscious as demand rises.
“We may not have the capital to do everything we’d like to for a couple years, but it will be awesome knowing what’s possible,” she said.
Becky McKendry writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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