May 10, 2021

Balancing Sustainability and Customer Experience in Wineries, Breweries and Distillers

Sustainable vineyard and winery

The world loves to celebrate or unwind with a glass of something delicious in hand and is increasingly turning to U.S.-produced beverages to meet their demand. In 2018 alone, people consumed 966 million gallons (37 million hectolitre) of U.S. wine, while U.S.-based brewers sold 194 million barrels (230 million hectolitre) of beer and distillers sold 239 million cases of spirits. Of course, the competition seeking to satisfy this thirsty market has also increased. 

A number of wineries, breweries and distilleries looking to give their quality products an edge in sales have turned their focus to sustainability. “Sustainable wineries attract more consumers,” proclaimed a recent article in Grapevine Magazine. It cited surveys of wine consumers in the U.S., Canada, Sweden and the UK that indicate a willingness to pay more for sustainably produced wine. The same goes for environmentally friendly beer and spirits. 

It can be a challenging, if incredibly worthwhile, step to move to greater sustainability in the wine industry, in craft brewing, and among distilleries. Fortunately, today there are ample options available to help vintners, brewers, and distillers reduce their operations’ carbon emissions. 

Environmentally friendly beer, wine and spirits 

Traditional methods for producing these alcoholic beverages are not exactly sustainable. After all, it takes six gallons of water to produce one gallon of wine, while distilleries produce 12 times as much wastewater as alcohol by volume. And water waste is only one aspect of the environmental inefficiencies challenging sustainability in the wine, beer and spirits industries. The kilns used in distilleries can be energy-intensive, while beverages release CO2 as a byproduct of the fermentation process. Then, of course there are pesticides and fertilizers used in some places to cultivate grapes and hops and the machinery used to harvest these ingredients, as well as the emissions generated through packaging and distribution processes. 

And yet, perhaps because of their reliance upon the earth, many players within these beverage production industries have prioritized sustainability initiatives. Distilleries have worked to protect the purity of their water supply since well before Prohibition. In fact, it was in the 1940s when a group of distillers first purchased land to create their own sustainable source of oak trees for barrel production. 

The craft beer movement is helping produce more environmentally friendly beer simply through the reduced transport required to move their products to local markets. However, many of these small brewers also support sustainability through methods that include recycling, using spent grains to generate energy, using local ingredients, and using the steam from one batch of beer to warm the next batch. And dozens of nonprofit organizations have cropped up to certify winegrowers’ increasingly sustainable practices

Certainly, there’s always more to do. However, any step these operators take to support sustainability in the wine, beer and liquor industries must also balance consumer expectations. For many of these beverage producers, the bottled product is only generating part of the total revenue—the rest increasingly comes from the growing business of wine, brewery and distillery tourism. 

Creating an on-site customer experience

Many of these operations offer tours that showcase production methods, and this includes strategies that demonstrate sustainability. Alissa Johnson, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Montanya Rum, a craft rum distillery located in Crested Butte, Colorado, shares, “Environmental sustainability has always been an important focus at Montanya, and choices like that are great conversation starters to help educate our customers. When we switched from plastic to stainless steel straws, our customers were very interested and wanted to learn more.” 

Seeing the reaction to that simple shift helped the team at Montanya Rum realize that installation of an aerobic biodigester that eliminated food waste from the local landfill could become another great conversation topic. 

The distillery installed an LFC-50 biodigester in February 2021 to divert food waste from its tasting room, bar and restaurant. The biodigester leaves behind only grey water that can be disposed of down the drain or in the garden. By April 2021, the machine had digested 1,500 pounds of citrus and other food waste, diverting more than 2.8 tonnes of CO2e (or carbon dioxide equivalent, meaning the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of carbon dioxide) from the landfill.

Of course, there is another factor that makes on-site food waste disposal solutions an ideal solution for many commercial kitchens, particularly those that let consumers peek behind the scenes. These enclosed disposal alternatives can help to minimize smells, odors, and pests. With multiple facility tours running throughout the day, organizations like Montanya Distillers can rest assured that the tour experience won’t offer up any pungent surprises.

Onsite disposal affords operational benefits 

As Montanya Distillers discovered, biodigesters are particularly attractive solutions for facilities in remote areas. The cost of waste disposal can add up over time, particularly when being transported over long distances. In 2020, the average cost to landfill municipal solid waste in the United States was $53.72 per ton, but saw averages as high as $72.03 per ton along the Pacific Coast. This, of course, does not include the cost of trash bags and the time staff spends handling messy garbage. 

Some agricultural operations turn to composting to combat this expense, but composting isn’t always a viable solution. Montanya Distillers had previously worked with a commercial composter (until that company closed) because of specific challenges to on-site composting. Chief among those challenges was location. The distillery operates in a rural, mountain community with a dry, harsh climate. In those conditions, decomposition takes time and can present a fire hazard if the compost is not properly treated. What’s more, compost piles attract wild animals, including the bears that roam the Rocky Mountains and nearby environs. 

Fortunately, moving food waste disposal solutions on-site can be tremendously cost-effective. In fact, Power Knot’s customers find that an installed LFC biodigester achieves a payback period of less than two years. 

Ready to discover how on-site food waste disposal can cost-effectively support your sustainability initiatives? Contact Power Knot today.

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