Athens, Ga. — Whether you’re opening a can of Athena Paradiso or refilling your glass with a pint of Tropicalia, you’re sipping on sustainability in the Georgia brewing industry.
The beer industry in Georgia is larger than you might think — according to the Beer Institute, it’s a $3.2 billion industry that provides jobs for more than 25,000 individuals. And with four breweries in Athens and one more opening in August of 2019, the Classic City is feeling its influence.
But as Athens-Clarke County begins to promote sustainability and conservation, breweries are starting to follow.
Mariel Gutierrez, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Georgia and the sustainability metrics intern at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, started working at the brewery in August of 2018. She spends 10 hours a week figuring out how to help the curious company use water, energy and money efficiently.
“We started making small changes first,” Gutierrez said. “Small changes have a huge impact… You have to know what the company’s using to be able to change it later on.”
Most breweries in Athens use 100% recyclable packaging for their canned products, but sustainability is more than just aluminum cans and cardboard boxes.
One of the main projects Gutierrez has been tackling is understanding and changing Creature’s water use. While 100% of the water used to chill wort, the infusion of ground malt or other grain before fermentation, in the brewery being reused as brewing water, the amount used is still significant. The average brewhouse uses seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, according to the Beer Institute.
“We didn’t know how much water we were using, so we started tracking that,” Gutierrez said. “Sometimes it was as easy as making the calculations on the computer, and other times … I would end up covered in beer and water from estimating usage from the canning line.”
Gutierrez, originally from Mexico City, Mexico, grew up in a culture of environmentalism.
“In Mexico, we were taught to be taking care of the planet … ” Gutierrez said. “I think it’s implemented in our brains to care about the environment, and … who doesn’t want to work for a beer company?”
When it comes to the energy sector, Creature is looking into renewable energy options, including installing solar panels on at their downtown location. Energy consumption can eat up about 3-8% of the production costs of beer, according to Energy Star.
While nothing is set in stone, the installation would be one of the first in the downtown area.
“It’s a huge thing…” Gutierrez said. “We’re an old town, but we are full of technology and we’re here to change.”