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Sustainable Suds

New UMD Project Brings Green Practices to Microbreweries

By Kristel Sheesley and Maggie Haslam

brewery interior

A new federal grant to the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center aims to guide craft brewers in Delaware and Pennsylvania to become more sustainable, cost-saving operations.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

Regional craft breweries will soon be seeing green—in their beermaking process and their bottom line—through a new project from the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center (EFC) aimed at helping them adopt cost-saving strategies to reduce water, energy and chemicals in their operations.

Supported by a $350,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pollution Prevention Grant, the project will target over 30 small breweries in or near struggling communities in northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania, an area seeing a boom in small, independent craft breweries.

“Breweries are like any other small business and can be economic anchors, particularly in communities facing poverty,” said EFC Program Manager Kristel Sheesley who, with fellow Program Manager Jennifer Egan, selected areas that the EPA had flagged as high environmental justice concerns for the project. “They are really making a difference in these communities; our goal is to help them continue to grow.”

Breweries are not the biggest industry polluters, said Sheesley, but can be water- and energy-intensive; it takes roughly seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer. Biosolids produced in the beer-making process—a heady sludge of yeast, grain and other organic material—can place a heavy burden on wastewater treatment plants. Craft brewmasters, she said, tend to be sustainably minded but often don’t have the time to research best practices.

“Every business has the opportunity to be more green, but these practices can also really improve the bottom line,” she said. “Craft breweries are a great industry to target.”

The craft-brewing industry is an important economic driver in Delaware and Pennsylvania, adding nearly $6 billion to the two states’ economies in 2021. According to the national Brewers Association, Delaware is home to 32 craft breweries, a fourfold increase since 2011. Pennsylvania saw craft breweries double in the past five years, and the state’s southeastern Chester County alone is home to 27.

The EFC project will offer on- and off-site technical assistance including webinars, online modules and opportunities to compare notes with other craft brewers. Borrowing ideas from similar projects in New England, a checklist of best practices will offer practical methods for reducing pollution, such as upcycling spent grain for livestock feed to area farms, powering down equipment when it’s not in use, replacing lighting with LEDs—even reclaiming CO2 made during fermentation for use in the bottling process. EFC’s project team will also visit roughly 10 locations to provide more in-depth assistance. The project will be implemented in collaboration with Environmental Finance Centers at the University of Southern Maine and the University of North Carolina.

While craft IPAs and lagers are also big business in Maryland, breweries often take advantage of Maryland’s existing green business registry and other initiatives in place. Regardless, the extensive digital collateral developed by the EFC will be available to any brewer looking to green their product.

“We hope as many breweries take advantage of this as possible,” said Sheesley.



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.