A Better Brew: Drinking Beer Sustainably

Let’s look into the sustainability of our beer. At least 5,000 years old, beer is the fourth most popular beverage in the world. We need to reduce the environmental impact of beer-making to prevent climate change, which threaten to make beer taste bad by making some ingredients less widely available.

Adult Americans drink, on average, about 28 gallons of beer each year. Clearly, we treasure our beer, but how does our beloved barley-based beverage treat the environment? The beer drunk each year in Oregon alone is estimated to generate greenhouse gases equivalent to 42,817 passenger vehicles. Is that because beer is bad for the environment or because we drink so much of it?

In a survey of brewing lifecycle analyses (LCAs), growing and processing raw materials contributed 22% of beer’s carbon footprint. Beer has very few ingredients; traditionally, only water, malted barley, yeast, and hops are used. Although water makes up most of the volume of beer, it is not the most significant ingredient. It takes at least 4 liters of water to make 1 liter of beer, but a liter of hard alcohol takes 34 liters of water and a single cup of coffee requires 140 liters.

Malted barley contributes the most to the footprint of beer’s ingredients. Agricultural impacts of barley account for about two-thirds of its footprint, while the malting process accounts for most of the rest – primarily as a result of energy use.

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