Toward a carbon neutral future of beer June 2022

Welcome to this BreweryPro podcast looking at the carbon neutral future of beer, part of Hop Products Australia’s 2022 Virtual Harvest program.

Climate change is already having a major impact on some of the key agricultural ingredients in beer, and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Join HPA’s Owen Johnston and Dr Simon Whittock as they discuss how suppliers can help mitigate the overall impact with University of Tasmania climate research fellow Dr Tomas Remenyi.

They also explore how brewers big and small can embark on a carbon neutral journey with Lion group environment director Justin Merrell.

A full transcript of this podcast is available below.

Owen Johnson: Integrating sustainable practices into our business strategy is mission critical in todays environment. Protecting the land and the livelihoods on which we depend is essential if Aussie hops are to have a future, and more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Simon Whittock: If the current rate of climate change isn’t slowed significantly in the very near future, there’s a high likelihood that the raw materials into brewing are going to be in such short supply that core recipes have to change. Not as a result of consumer preferences but because the environment in which they are grown has changed completely.

Tomas Remenyi: Climate scientists like myself have been attempting to map and predict climate change. So this modelling can help agribusiness respond to these changes in climate and can potentially mitigate the influence of changing climate on developmental processes or production yield.

OJ: What are the key indicators of climate change in our growing regions?

TR: We’re going to get more frequent droughts, we’re going to get rising temperatures particularly overnight and particularly in those cooler months. With that rising temperatures over the summer months you’ve got an increase in evapotranspiration, so a drying of the landscape. As hop growing regions are often in quite low rainfall areas, they must be irrigated.

SW: Irrigation of Aussie hops usually starts in late November or early December and constitutes about 650mm of water for the whole growing season, most of that is delivered by overhead irrigation. We’ve also adopted new techniques to conserve water like soil moisture sensors that allow us to carefully monitor the amount of moisture being added to the plant and fine-tune that application specifically to what the plant needs.

By following the soil moisture status, current evaporation rates, historical climate data, the weather forecast, the age and growth stage of a crop, we can effectively manage our irrigation needs for the week ahead throughout the growing season.

TR: There a statistically significant correlations between temperature and alpha acid concentrations inside the hops. and as the global temperatures rise that’s going to influence these accumulation rates of the acids. So when we’ve got a 1.5 degree warming of temperature globally or out to 3.5 degrees as we go out to the end of century We’re going to see more days over 30, possibly more days over 40 even in a cool climate like this and that’s going to really have an influence on yields and the accumulation of these core ingredients inside the hops.

SW: Fortunately for now our water resources are relatively secure and the use of overhead irrigation allows us to modulate the humidity and temperature in the canopy via evaporative cooling.

TR: There is also going to be a really big change in the seasonality so we are going to have more intense rainfall events over spring and summer which isn’t good for cropping and we are going to have a decreased rainfall over winter so those river flows and resources are going to decrease over time.

OJ: What other climatological hazards might we face?

TR: Flash flooding, high winds, hail, they are definitely some key risks needed to be managed. Then the other big challenge we’ve got is as overnight temperatures particularly warm up, there’s an increased risk in biosecurity so in particular, pests and hazards won’t get knocked off by those colder temperatures as much anymore and be out all season the whole way, and we’ve also got changing soil activity for similar reasons so as soil temperatures warm up, the soil operates really differently. This is why it’s so important for anyone in agriculture at the moment to be really looking at different operational techniques that mitigate those changes and mitigate the influence on yield and quality.

OJ: What type of modifications to our existing agricultural practices are we talking about?

SW: So on a long lead time we can use targeted cultivar selection to select adapted varieties to the conditions we are growing in a shorter time frame we can improve our irrigation practice so that we are using water in a more targeted way. We can improve our processes around mulching and herbicide use to reduce the intensity of herbicide use.

There is the processes and systems of regenerative agriculture that people are learning about these days. All of which we can use to reduce the impact of our operations on our local environment. Regardless, we are likely to see greater variability in yield year-on-year with an estimated 20 percent of the average becoming normal. So we are choosing to focus on climate change mitigation strategies. We have spread our growing regions across Victoria and Tasmania to help protect our crop from regional impacts. Importantly, our Tasmanian growing region has a temperate maritime climate, cooled by westerly winds off the Southern Ocean providing more regular rainfall and conditions that are generally free from extreme temperatures.

There is also a lower risk of extreme weather events such as heat waves and hail storms that may effect other key growing regions.

OJ: Compared to the life-threatening impacts of climate change a beer shortage may seem unimportant, but the potential impact on yield, quality and price may see beer move out of reach of millions of people worldwide. The recent surge in popularity of hoppy beer styles has driven brewers to use ever increasing amounts of hops. The sustainability impacts can no longer be denied as raw materials are the second largest contributor to the environmental impact of beer behind packaging.

SW: HPA is committed to ensuring our business has a positive impact on the environment, our brewing customers, and beer drinkers. Our dedication to being an environmentally and socially responsible company means conducting our business in a transparent manner. We are in the early stages of this journey and there has been little research into improving energy efficiencies of hop farming.

So we are focused on appointing the right people, setting up the relevant processes and establishing mutually beneficial partnerships to help us make headway in this space. We’ll start with some simple targets associated with the most carbon-intensive aspects of our core business such as a life cycle analysis of the complete hop production process and supply chain, improving our energy efficiencies in carbon offsets before turning our attention toward targets with less obvious solution such as alternatives to fossil fuels, transport efficiencies and producing more concentrated products to reduce the requirements for cold chain and transport needs.

OJ: Setting meaningful targets for which we are accountable is a daunting prospect. But we have been fortunate to have the support of a number of industry partners who share our values, including Lion. Lion are Australia’s first large scale carbon neutral brewer. Their whole brewery carbon reduction approach includes energy efficiency, biogas utilisation, rooftop solar and renewable electricity power purchase agreements. Lion is committed to a net zero value chain by 2050, what will that require?

Justin Merrell: Well ultimately it requires working with our suppliers and we need to collaborate to reduce our collective emissions. So Lion has set itself a goal to be a force for good and what we would like to do ultimately is be a role model for sustainable brewing. To help us with that we have set some quite ambitious targets, we would like to be using 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025, we have set science-based targets for direct reduction that’s focusing on our scope one and two emissions. We have also set targets for scope three. And the scope three are those indirect emissions associated with our suppliers, so we need to work with the suppliers to ultimately reduce those emissions. And we are going to be very transparent when we do this so ultimately people will see what we are doing, they can be inspired, and follow in our path.

OJ: Your whole brewery carbon reduction approach includes the generation of biogas from waste water, how does that work?

JM: That’s right so we have waste water treatment plants at all the large breweries, XXXX up in Castlemaine is probably the highlight across the network. It’s got a typical waste water treatment process and in addition to that they’ve built on a microfiltration plant and a reverse osmosis plant. So ultimately that means we can recycle about 4 megalitres of water a day, and produce a really good quality water that we can reuse back in the brewing process.

And in addition to that, the waste that is in the waste water is converted to biogas through an anaerobic digestion process and that process generates methane and we can use that methane to generate electricity which we do at Tooheys, or we can use it for process heat purposes when it goes into the boilers up at XXXX.

OJ: And you’ve also installed rooftop solar at both XXXX and the Little Creatures brewery. Has this increased your efficiency?

JM: Yeah absolutely. It’s great to see the proliferation of solar on rooftops and we’ve done that at XXXX. That saves around 14 hundred tonnes of carbon emissions per year and in Little Creatures 750 tonnes of carbon per year. So this represents around 25 percent of the electricity consumed at Little Creatures in Geelong and that’s a great contribution we’ve got there from the sun.

OJ: Nice. So Lion is well on the way. If a brewery big or small wants to embark on their own sustainability journey what advice have you got?

JM: Well it’s been said many times before but you cannot manage what you don’t measure. So getting a handle on your scope one or two emissions which means measuring your natural gas, measuring your electricity, looking at your processes and materials and there you can put together you emissions profile and there is some really easy wins you can have there in terms of refrigeration set points auto shutdowns, boil times, quite often they’re the ones that give you a real kick start. And ultimately if you’re heading towards that carbon neutral goal for your products then you need to be working on your scope three, again we are back to working with our suppliers and how do we reduce the overall life cycle emissions of that beer.

OJ: That’s where we come in to it.

JM: Correct.

OJ: On your way to a carbon neutral beer, the more you can reduce emissions means the less you have to offset on your way to net zero. Lion supports a number of carbon offset projects, how do you choose which projects to support?

JM: Well we have two principles. One is that we buy a minimum 20 percent domestic projects, so we are really trying to invest in the local ecosystems and the second principle is that we try to target projects which deliver shared value or co-benefits.

So we have a number of projects in New South Wales and Queensland and we also have an indigenous fire management project up in Arnhem Land. And so the carbon benefit, it actually becomes secondary. So they are the projects that we try to steer toward, it’s not just the tonne of carbon it’s the broader benefits they bring.

OJ: The beer industry has an intrinsic connection to the natural environment so that seems like a great fit.

JM: Exactly, so brewers and their suppliers are in a really privileged position to make a big impact and so I am confident we can get on top of climate change and if we do it right we can do a lot of regeneration in that process.

SW: Together with our industry partners, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of efficiency and innovation.

OJ: So we can all continue moving toward a carbon neutral future for beer.

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