The Blog for Women Who Brew Beer

Keeping Beer Cold at Stores – Carbon Footprint Biggie.

Posted by Maggie on January 31, 2011

According to the sustainability director of the New Belgian Brewing Company, the largest potion of a beer’s carbon footprint is not related to manufacturing but it is keeping the beer cold at a store.  All of those large refrigeration units at stores are killing us.  What are we thinking!  Buy your beer warm and dark next time.  Or brew your own!

Want Sustainable Beer? Buy it Warm

Brewery’s Energy Analysis Shows Store Refrigeration is the Big Toe in Beer’s Carbon Footprint

What is the most energy-intensive part of your beer purchase?

A.Making the heavy brown glass bottles

B.Brewing the beer using vast amounts of water and high heat

C.Shipping the beer to your liquor store

D.Refrigerating the beer at the store until your purchase

Before hearing Jenn Orgolini talk recently about her company’s sustainability efforts, I would have guessed A or C, but she showed the answer is D. If, like me, you have focused your eco-conscious purchasing decisions on sustainable packaging and lower transportation costs, you have been barking up (and hugging) the wrong tree. You should be focusing on the temperature in the spot where you buy your food and beverages.

Orgolini is the sustainability director at New Belgium Brewing Company, brewer of Fat Tire, Sunshine Wheat and many other fantastic and eco-friendly beers.

New Belgium is super-sustainable. The company is fairly obsessive about bikes (the Fat Tire name is an homage to mountain bikes), and runs much of the plant with wind and solar energy. Two years ago, the company completed one of the most extensive life-cycle energy assessments in the industry. The results even surprised company officials.


The life-cycle analysis found that only five percent of the carbon footprint of a six-pack of beer is generated in the New Belgium plant. “Upstream” inputs account for 48 percent, and “downstream” inputs account for 47 percent. The biggest chunk of this upstream energy is in making glass bottles. I am among many environmentally conscious consumers who focus on transport energy costs for my food, beer and other products. I would typically chose light, locally produced cans over long-distance bottles, but I might not be choosing very wisely.

Orgolini said the carbon costs for transporting glass bottles are minimal in comparison to other energy inputs. It is true that the costs of transporting cans are even lower. Cans are lighter and more stackable.  On the other hand, the production costs of a can are higher. Bauxite mining is energy-intensive and can be environmentally damaging. In an ideal world, every can would be recycled. Aluminum recycling is simple and energy-efficient.

However, New Belgium can’t find recycled aluminum for all the cans it needs. Even if it could find enough recycled cans, the energy savings would be dwarfed by a factor that is out of New Belgium’s control: In-store refrigeration is the biggest single piece of a beer’s carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of a Fat Tire six-pack is equivalent to 3,189 grams of carbon dioxide. An estimated 830 grams of carbon dioxide is used for refrigeration at the store. The next largest energy inputs are the production and transportation of glass and barley. The three pieces of the beer puzzle account for 68 percent of the emissions in the six-pack.


One Response to “Keeping Beer Cold at Stores – Carbon Footprint Biggie.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Heylin, John Heylin. John Heylin said: Think about this when you're buying a six pack. […]

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