Nov 062002
Authors: Dominic Weilminster

Fort Collins is home to one of the world’s premier breweries. The New Belgium brewery has made its way from a local couple’s basement operation to a top national trendsetter in industrial efficiency and commercial life.

“We are always looking to close our own loops,” said Hillary Mizia, the brewery’s sustainability goddess and part owner. “Within the brewery we make industry and office life meet in a way that one may compliment the other.”

The most pioneering aspect of New Belgium, however, is their focus on minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency.

“Within our core values as a company, our main goal is to minimize our consumption of resources, while maximizing our energy efficiency and recycling,” Mizia said. “We certainly don’t have a zero-waste policy, that would be impossible, but we will do everything that we can to avoid unnecessary waste.”

Begun ten years ago in the basement of a local couple’s house, New Belgium has grown into the 12th largest brewery in the world with an output of around 250,000 barrels of beer each year. From its start, the brewery’s owners, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan have committed to being stewards of the environment.

Their commitment has remained. As the New Belgium brewery has grown over the past 10 years, its efficiency has spread to nearly all aspects of the company’s processes.

“We have definitely become a role model within the business world,” said Mizia. “We are showing people that a company that takes the extra time and money to pay attention to their waste streams and energy uses can still be profitable and, at the same time, seek a truly rewarding goal of looking out for the environment.”

From wind power to effective water treatment, New Belgium’s brew-house is home to some of the most innovative, yet simplistic ideas for environmental efficiency.

The brewery itself is the first American brewery to run completely off of wind power. It is the largest user of wind power and, therefore, the largest benefactor using the Fort Collins wind power program. The program, operating on the power created by wind turbines on a Platte River Power Authority wind farm in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, is a clean source of energy and costs just slightly more than the typical coal power.

Through its use of wind power, the brewery has avoided the burning of 8.2 million pounds of coal and, thus, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 15.2 million pounds.

Usage of even clean energy, however, can be minimized. In order to achieve this, New Belgium has made changes to both their brewing house and their brewing technology to achieve a more efficient industrial process all together.

In May of 2002, the brewery finished work on a “bio-digester” wastewater facility to facilitate reuse of processed water. The facility’s processes, while cleaning the water, produce reusable byproducts in the form of methane gas and sludge. The methane gas fuels an in-house co-generation plant, which serves as an alternate source for electric energy as well as heat. Nutrient-rich sludge is conserved and reused in building fertile soil.

New Belgium’s “bio-digester” has reduced the brewery’s consumption of water to a ratio of only three barrels of water to every barrel of beer (far below the national standard of eight to one). Also, as a result of “bio-digesting” the water, wastewater is returned to a potable form and can safely be released back into the environment or even reused for cleaning or steam propulsion within the brewery.

Nearly all-heating and cooling processes within the brewery are self-sustainable. From simple ideas such as taking advantage of Colorado’s cold winter air through draft cooling during fermentation, to using steam collected from brew kettles or heated wort (the tea which is beer prior to fermentation) to heat water for use in other aspects of the brewing processes.

New Belgium also takes advantage of chemicals like glycol, which is able to maintain a sustained temperature for long periods of time to heat loading docks and keep fermentation containers cool without the need for a constant aid in keeping the temperature regulated.

Currently, the brewery is installing a second brew house that would be able to triple the capacity of production for New Belgium. Within the new addition, a number of new technologies will be installed to increase efficiency in the brewing process, and the brewery itself is working towards being able to be completely self-powered off of methane-fueled co-generators.

Even beyond the brewing process, New Belgium seeks efficiency and environmental conscientiousness. Heating in many areas of the brewery is a result of the collection of hot steam from brew kettles being pumped through pipes in the floor.

The vast majority of lighting throughout the brewery is via natural light flooding the interior from skylights, light diffusing tubes and large windows. All windows and skylights contain filters to regulate heat and harshness of light. To avoid lights being left on in empty rooms, motion sensors control fluorescent lighting throughout the brewery.

“Using daylight for lighting, is not only efficient, but it is not nearly as ugly and depressing as the usual, fluorescent industrial and commercial lighting,” Mizia said.

Every element, down to the tasteful recycled office furniture and carpet, and the zeroscaped landscape surrounding the brewery seems to have been taken into account.

Work around New Belgium seems to be more of a happy, constructive pastime than dreadful industrial manufacturing work. Despite being almost completely efficient, the atmosphere for work at New Belgium, including their employee playground slide from the second floor to the first, is enough to keep morale up.

Besides the slide and the free case of beer every week, after working for a year, workers become part owners and their ideas are heard in all departments from all employees.

“Part of what has helped us find so many areas to improve on is that everything is done in house,” Mizia said. “An accountant could talk to an engineer and have an idea heard person to person. That’s how things get done around here. Everyone really cares about what we are doing.”

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