California Brewing: Anheuser-Busch

Something more than beer is brewing in Fairfield

By Derrick Peterman

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I recently visited a brewery that’s one of the most aggressive in California at reducing its environmental footprint. Since 2007, it reduced its water usage by 47%. It installed its first wind turbine in 2011 and its second one in 2014. Combined with a 7-acre solar array, 30% of its power is generated by renewable energy. It initiated a number of bio-energy recovery systems and recycles 99% of its solid waste. What brewery is this? It’s the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield.

Does that surprise you? Craft breweries like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Anderson Valley have long been examples of how beer can be brewed with less water and energy, while using fewer materials and releasing less carbon into the air. Plenty of other smaller, local breweries followed suit. Say what you want about Anheuser-Busch being one of those big evil corporations, they are getting into the environmental act in a big way. While I’m all about championing small, local breweries doing good things for the environment, when a huge brewery like Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield brewery gets in the act, it not only shows the movement has finally arrived, it makes a much larger impact.

To put the size of Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield brewery in perspective, 4.5 million barrels of beer are brewed there each year. (One barrel of beer equals 31 gallons.) That’s almost four times the size of Sierra Nevada Brewing. A typical brewpub produces 500-1,000 barrels of beer annually, while a mid-size brewery like Anderson Valley brews 50,000-100,000 barrels per year. You could fit about 75 randomly selected craft breweries inside this one brewery.

Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield brewery is part of a company-wide pilot program, where environmental and cost saving processes are tested and evaluated for export to the other eleven breweries Anheuser-Busch operates nationwide.  Altogether, these twelve breweries brew between 150-200 million barrels of beer each year. It’s not just a saying.   Anheuser-Busch really does spill more beer in a day than most breweries brew in a year. That means the water and waste reductions achieved at the Fairfield brewery can potentially be multiplied by more than a factor of twelve throughout the United States.

Could Anheuser-Busch’s environmental initiatives simply be a big corporate cost savings program wrapped in a feel good environmental story? Perhaps. As Fairfield brewery engineer Damon Walker explains, “Like most companies, any project we undertake must present a business case in addition to the environmental benefits.”   Environmentalists have been claiming for decades that good business and good environments can co-exist. Anheuser-Busch’s Fairfield brewery validates that.

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