Santa Cruz, CA
Staying sustainably savvy serves and supports small businesses and municipalities. However, no one said such savvy would be simple.
Silly sibilance aside, for small businesses like microbreweries (which are growing rapidly in number all over the world), sustainability raises many questions around environmental impact, operating costs, and community involvement or appearance. In particular, issues such as usage and treatment of water can prove incredibly wasteful and expensive, while operating costs of electricity can also make the bills soar sky high. For some small breweries and municipalities, the time and cost spent to take steps such as implementing solar panels and cutting down on water usage have proven to be worth the logistical headache.
Discretion Brewery in Santa Cruz, California opened its doors in March of 2013, one year before a major drought swept over the state. We met with the head brewer, Dustin, to talk about Discretion's commitment to sustainability through water usage, renewable energy, and waste reduction.
Brew master Dustin Vereker grew up in a very dry area of Southern California where his mother worked in wastewater treatment. All throughout his childhood, he would hear about keeping water usage down and treating water in order to stay in accordance with the “toilet to tap” initiative put in place. This upbringing allowed him to stay more sustainably minded into adulthood, and he has brought that attitude with him to Discretion. Now, Discretion takes Dustin's attitude to heart with their water usage initiatives. While the battle to reduce water usage and wastewater rages on, Dustin and his team continue to look for new ways to respect the beauty of Santa Cruz county while preserving this precious resource.
“When we first opened we opened with a very sustainable mindset, as best we could at the scale that we are at,'' said Dustin. Their goal has always been to create a low environmental impact, especially being based in a place like Santa Cruz where being environmentally conscious looms large in the minds of the community. While Santa Cruz county has been lucky enough to avoid waste water treatment problems because of their wet climate, surrounding counties and municipalities have not been so lucky. Indeed, about 10 miles away from Santa Cruz in the Santa Cruz hills, most small communities people use septic tanks in lieu of municipal water treatment. The old, outdated treatment plant in Scott’s Valley can only treat one kind of waste and has a relatively small limit on the gallons of water able to be treated per day. Due to this treatment plants struggles and inability to handle large volumes of water, waste from places like microbreweries might be re-directed to Santa Cruz county.
"Small scale brewing is grossly inefficient when it comes to water usage," Dustin told our CEO, Rachel Major, and our CTO, Ari Ochoa. While Discretion continues to use as little water as possible in their brewing process, they are still only able to get the water used to beer brewed ratio down to a 6:1 scale. Meanwhile, large scale breweries such as Sierra Nevada are able to get that ratio down to something more along the lines of 3:1.
Discretion's sustainability initiatives do not stop with water! Within a year of opening their doors, the small Santa Cruz based brewery installed solar panels on the roof of their building. After being in operation for just over 6 years, these panels have proven a great investment both for business and for the environment. Dustin tells us these solar panels are able to provide approximately 50 percent of Discretion's electricity needs. While Santa Cruz County may not have offered any incentives for switching to more renewable energy sources, the incentive lies in the sustainable practice itself, and, as Dustin pointed out, the system has paid for itself in just over 6 years!
Finally, Discretion's commitment to sustainability rounds off with their attitude towards helping the community by offering an edible garden and donating their brewing waste to local farms. The brewery contains a beautiful garden in which herbs and vegetables are grown. These very herbs and vegetables may be found on diners plates at any given time. Furthermore, Dustin informed us that after using their "100% organic malts and hops" in the brewing process, the "slop" created goes straight to local farmers as pig food! Both NuLeaf and Dustin believe that local breweries can serve as a sort of gathering place for members of the community and help teach about sustainable life and business practices. As Dustin so rightly pointed out: "Breweries, right now, culturally, they fit this kind of local, community oriented vibe".
So, sustainability seems to spur certain special sentiments surrounding small businesses like microbreweries. Certainly, more breweries will aim to implement these practices going forward, and as Rachel says: "hopefully we can all enjoy a pint 30 years from now".