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SPEA students examine sustainability of local brewery

Upland Brewing Co. recently approached Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs to perform a sustainability audit of the business. The resulting agreement allowed three graduate students to work on a project outside of the traditional academic environment, while helping a Bloomington business reach its goal of improved sustainability.

This type of sustainability audit is important because "it allows the public to vote with their dollars" and choose businesses that have proven a positive impact upon the community, said student analyst Emilie Rex.

Upland Sustainability

Photo by Chris Meyer

IU sustainability interns get a facility tour of Upland Brewing Co. from head brewer Caleb Staton, right.

Print-Quality Photo

Rex, along with students Benjamin Au and Matt Trout, examined such factors as Upland's carbon emissions, water usage, and waste production. Rex said it was particularly satisfying to create something coherent and useful to the community -- not just another academic paper. Pursuing the study allowed the students to experience a more realistic work environment, she said; they felt the independent analysis was similar to what they would be asked to create in the real world and that it had a real, tangible outcome.

The idea behind the audit is that, if broad sustainability reporting were enacted among businesses, it would allow the market to encourage competition for more sustainable products -- much the way nutrition and ingredient labels do today.

In developing their analysis, students first examined current systems in place at the brewery in order to calculate emissions generated directly through the business's power usage and indirectly through its purchasing and supply decisions. Another significant factor studied by the students was water usage. While upgrades by Upland have improved efficiency, students identified additional improvements for the business to consider.

Some suggestions that could be applicable for other businesses included:

  • Increase electricity efficiency: Carbon footprint can be lowered through simple and relatively inexpensive modifications to improve efficiency and reduce reliance on electricity. Installing energy-efficient lighting, sensor-driven fixtures, and Energy Star appliances will yield financial and conservation payoff.
  • Consider building upgrades: Improvements in the structure housing a business can help lower costs and reduce waste. These can range from simple improvements in insulation to construction of LEED certifiable buildings -- which would have lower heating and cooling costs.
  • Product sourcing: Carbon footprint can be lowered by reducing transportation and shipping. Increased use of local and organic produce reduces emissions from miles of shipping while also decreasing refrigeration time. An assessment of products shipped can help identify concrete areas for carbon reduction, as well as acquire data for realistic goal setting.
  • Waste Management: Carbon footprint can be lowered by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. The composting of foods used in the kitchen can reduce waste. In a brewery, biogas digestion and creation of biodiesel may prove a reasonable method for recycling spent grain and fryer oil.
  • Water Footprint: Water use can be reduced through both behavioral changes and mechanical upgrades. Investments in relatively low-cost fixtures can reduce water consumption. Also, runoff waste can be managed through special drains to reduce erosion and pollution.

The students laid groundwork for future assessments in areas of potential development such as a life-cycle assessment of a six-pack of Upland Wheat, a solar thermal panel program evaluation, and cost-benefit analyses of photo voltaic and/or wind infrastructure investment, a biodigestion system for spent grain and wastewater and a commitment to buying local/organic food.

The sustainability assessment was conducted in partnership with Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and the Sustainable Development Association, an associated graduate student organization.

Upland Brewing Co., established in 1997, is Indiana's largest microbrewery. It brews and distributes five styles of beer, ale and porter, along with several seasonal styles, and operates a restaurant and pub at 350 W. 11th St. in Bloomington.