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Iowa Breweries On A Sustainable Streak

Meritt Thomas

At SingleSpeed Brewery in Waterloo, Iowa, sustainable beer is just the beginning. In addition to sourcing sustainable ingredients for their brews, SingleSpeed boasts a LEED-certified facility.

Rather than construct a brand-new building for brewing purposes, SingleSpeed made the sustainable choice to renovate a historic structure: an abandoned Wonder Bread factory in the heart of downtown. But striking a balance between historic preservation and energy-efficient design wasn’t an easy feat for SingleSpeed owner Dave Morgan.

“A lot of times, LEED and historic preservation are at opposite ends (in terms of their) goals,” Morgan said.

Even so, Morgan had solar panels installed on the roof which offsets nearly 100% of brewery operations. The construction team also installed High Efficiency LED lighting, motion sensors and submeters to maximize water efficiency.

And according to the brewery’s website, they plan to keep improving in terms of sustainability. “All of that adds up, but trust us, we aren’t done yet,” the site states. “Watch us as we continue striving to lower our reliance on any non-renewable energy source.” 

In fact, a handful of breweries in Iowa are adopting sustainable practices that not only influence the beer-making process, but also, positively impact the surrounding communities. From sourcing local and sustainable ingredients to innovative brewing methods to community outreach, several breweries are making a difference for local customers and for the environment.

Photo Courtesy Roberta Keiko

One of the ways the state’s sustainable breweries can stand out among interested patrons is through the Iowa Green Brewery Certification. Developed by the Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC) in 2017, the certification recognizes sustainable achievements at four different levels – bronze, silver, gold, and platinum – across categories such as energy efficiency, water quality, and conservation and sustainable materials management.

Iowa breweries are following a cross-country brewery trend towards sustainability. Many beer makers across the U.S. are adopting sustainable practices using a variety of methods. And consumers are on board as well: a 2018 study at Indiana University found that 59% would pay more for sustainable beer.

IWRC director Joe Bolick said as the brewing industry has grown, so have concerns about water quality, energy and waste diversion. The Green Brewery Certification program advises brewery clients on how to reduce their environmental impact. “There’s some pretty significant environmental concerns we have so it just made sense,” Bolick said. “Let’s develop a program for this industry.”

So far, 29 breweries across Iowa have obtained various levels of the Green Brewery Certification.

Last year, Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City and Solon achieved the platinum certification, the highest level of distinction. Owner Danny Stanley said he had already committed to a zero-waste lifestyle at home, so bringing the same eco-centric values to his business made sense. And Big Grove remains grateful for the community support they’ve received on their journey to become as sustainable as possible.

“Success helps, I’m not going to lie … if you’re struggling it’s probably not your first thing you’re thinking about,” said David Moore, Big Grove’s Director of Operations. “But we’ve been fortunate with the support. We have our customers to be able to have the money and capital and expertise and time to do these things. Everybody got involved and did their part, and the employees came up with ideas of what to do.”

“It’s not an easy task,” Bolick said. “It takes an entire organizational commitment to the cause to reach this level.”

Both SingleSpeed and Big Grove are committed to giving back to the surrounding community, proving that sustainability can go beyond resource conservation. SingleSpeed says they aim to partner with organizations that keep the community moving forward, “guided by principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability.” Partner groups include Iowa Bike Coalition and the Prairie Rapids Project, connecting outdoor enthusiasts with the Cedar River.

Photo Courtesy Coen van de Broek

Big Grove focuses its charitable efforts on three categories: building parks and nature reserves, environmental conservation and promoting outdoor activities. At their Iowa City location, they host yoga classes, 5k runs and even a triathlon coming up in October.

“Being able to have the impact that we’re having has been just amazing for me,” Stanley said.

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