Enjoying a frosty beverage in the sun may sound like the perfect end to your day this spring, but do you know what your favorite drink’s environmental footprint is? From grain or grape to glass, brewing and winemaking can often be resource heavy with water and energy consumption being the top areas of concern. While the actual brewing/vinting process carries the least amount of environmental impact, the raw material production and transportation of the drinks are still an important part of the resource cycle to consider. Luckily for the planet (and KC), many local companies are committed to “closing the loop” on waste production by adopting a circular economy business model and reducing their negative impact.
So, what is a circular economy?
A circular economy is a concept centered around the idea of keeping resources (that are currently in production) in use for as long as feasible, and to extract the maximum value from them while in use. The traditional model of production follows a simple linear timeline: make, use, dispose. A circular economy urges the practice of recovery and regeneration of materials at the end of each service life. The framework that puts a circular economy into practice is known as the “closed loop model” where the idea of outputs and inputs follow a circular movement and are reintegrated to either fully or partially close the cycle through biological and technical recycling initiatives. By reducing the wasteful and sometimes destructive flow of resources into pollutants, the closed loop model represents an economic opportunity to sustain the environment and do less harm.
Minimize waste = maximize a positive net impact
If Beer is your thing, Kansas City is home to many niche micro-breweries, and some of these brewers are committed to closing the loop in their own practices. Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, is a zero-landfill business, recycling and composting almost all of its waste by partnering with other local companies. What cannot be recycled, is incinerated at a local cement factory, creating energy and ash that can be reused. Boulevard has also linked up with Ripple Glass, a KC initiative to sustainably collect and recycle glass. To reduce raw energy consumption, Boulevard has installed solar panels to power its production and adopted compostable cartons and 200% recyclable case trays. Boulevard understands the impact of their brewing business and has taken steps at every part of the chain of commerce to support the local community.
If you are more into sipping a fine wine, then you’re in luck. The local winery at Jowler Creek Vineyards in Platte City is taking big steps in the right direction to reduce environmental impact during grape growing and wine making process. This clever vineyard employs a small flock of sheep to mow weeds under the vines, which eliminates the use of herbicides and minimize soil erosion. The vineyard also employs chicken and bats to eat insects that damage the plants, instead of using harmful insecticide sprays. An automated drip irrigation system consumes up to 50% less water than conventional methods, reducing the strain on the natural resources that it takes to grow grapes. Solar power saves the day for this winery, by powering some of the growing operations to reduce the dependence on energy consumption. Jowler Creek is finding new and adaptive ways to consider wildlife and the environment as a necessary part of its overall operations.
If alcohol isn’t really your thing, other forms of brewing are also following a closed loop model to operate sustainably. Enter Lucky Elixir Kombucha, a North Kansas City “brewkery” making all natural and sustainable canned kombucha. The healthy drink is brewed using a SCOBY system (symbiotic colony of bacteria & yeast). Lucky Elixir also opened a taproom in 2018, which allows customers to purchase glass growlers and bring them back in for multiple refills, which reduces packaging waste.
There are just a few examples of innovative and sustainable ways that beverage companies are having a more positive impact on natural resources, the environment, and the local ecosystems in Kansas City. So, next time you reach for your drink of choice, take a look at their sustainability approach and think about choosing a company that is doing their part to make our world a better place.
Melanie Kelley is a business strategist and MBA graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She is passionate about sustainable living and environmental conservation.