It can be safely said that any success Boundary Bay Brewing Company has enjoyed has everything to do with the quality of the people who work here. This week we have invited one of these quality people, Michael Nichols, to share his recent ruminations on embodied energy.
Beer: The Greener the Better
by Michael G. Nichols
In the last few years I have become more aware of the small steps I can take which have a large cumulative effect on our world. Chief among these small steps is being aware of the embodied energy in the products I consume, and making choices which reduce the overall embodied energy for which I am responsible. One simple and effective way I have found to impact my overall embodied energy consumption is by recognizing and reacting to the environmental impact of the beer I consume.
Embodied energy (sometimes referred to as embedded carbon) is a pretty simple concept which is not yet discussed or addressed often enough. It refers to the energy used in (and thusly, the pollution resulting from) the creation, distribution, consumption, and disposal of a product. Consider the choice I made for my snack today. My favorite fruit is the apple, and I have been eating several a week since I was a child. Among the choices I had at the store were apples grown in , Eastern Washington, and right here in Whatcom County. I do not have an itinerary for its travels, but by looking at my globe, I can guess the apple was shipped by container ship to a large western port, probably , but maybe or somewhere else. Then it would be moved by rail or truck to a distribu tion hub of some kind, and then moved by truck again to the local fruit and vegetable market where I shop once a week or so. The apple grown in took a similar journey, but would have skipped the container ship portion. The apple grown here in Whatcom County had to be moved from the orchard in the outlying county to the place where I am buying it, possibly via a middle person of some kind, but it obviously moved the least distance, and so probably has the least impact on our environment, because it has the least embodied energy.
When I first began to consider these sorts of distances, I told myself it was just an apple. Then I began to consider how many apples I might eat in a year, then in a lifetime. I am a big eater and I really like apples, so figure I average five a week. 250 apples a year, at maybe 3 apples to the pound equal 83 pounds of apples per year. Do I want to be responsible for the pollution of shipping 83 pounds from every year? Not if it is reasonable to avoid it. Apples are easy to get locally; we grow very excellent apples right here in . An occasional exotic fruit is a very refreshing thing, but as a staple, it is just not worth the environmental impact to accept a product from far away when there is a local alternative.
It has become a matter of habit with me now to consider a product’s place of origin when deciding on a brand to purchase, and even whether to purchase the product at all. There are some items for which this thinking can be very difficult (it is challenging or impossible to find a locally grown banana, for instance; I bought a new phone recently and couldn’t find one made in North America, regardless of price; I would pay double for a locally-grown cup of coffee, but no luck there, either). For most products, I find I have to either pay a premium for a product with less embodied energy, or accept a product of lesser quality. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy beer, the produces some of the very finest beer in the world, and it does not cost any more than like products shipped from far away. There are now dozens of breweries operating in and , and many of them cooperate in small ways to help get their beers delivered as efficiently as possible.
The next time you order beer in a restaurant or bar, or choose a six-pack at the grocery store, consider the impact on our world caused by getting that beer to you. Order a beer produced in your state or region, and let the management know this issue matters to you. When considering how to make the world a better place, there are many issues to address, and many sacrifices to be made. It is a relief to know that choosing a beer does not need to be one of them. Buy local to reduce your impact on the planet, and get the very best beer at the same time. Beer already feels good to drink – drinking local beer feels even better. Cheers!