By Carol Milano

Next time you savor a beer, you might be saving the forest, protecting an endangered lighthouse, or encouraging alternative energy use.

With beers tasting just as good as their competitors', a pioneering trio of small American breweries is showing how well suds mix with social and environmental concerns.

Last May, Summit Brewing Company was approached by the Forest Stewardship Council about using certified wood at its brewery. The St. Paul firm decided that supporting sustainable forestry would be a smart business investment for them. "Buying certified pallets that come from well-managed and harvested forests lets us reassure our customers that we purchase things not taken from clear-cut forests. We're upholding our company values while encouraging forest management practices that protect clean water resources -- an essential ingredient in quality beer," says Christopher Seitz, Operations Manager.

Switching to certified pallets was an easy decision, because they're not paying a premium for the wood, although Seitz had originally expected to. Fortunately, Summit's supplier also joined the Forest Stewardship Council and began to manufacture certified pallets. "We actually get fan mail about it, even from non- beer drinkers," Seitz marvels. "It didn't cost us a thing -- the best kind of advertising." Summit, established in 1986, makes eight types of craft beers.

The small brewery's staff has always believed that it has relationships not only with its customers and wholesalers, but with the environment, as well. For example, "we take our coffee-brewing as seriously as our beer-brewing," Seitz jokes. His company gets organic, fair-traded beans for its employees from Peace Coffee, a Minneapolis company active in rainforest preservation.

Light Ale and Lighthouses

The American Lighthouse Foundation, a small non-profit group in Maine, is dedicated to the preservation of lighthouses. Its co-founder, Tim Harrison, was thrilled when Fred Forsley, president of Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, contacted him to propose developing a beer that could help fund his organization's efforts. Shipyard Light Ale, created by Master Brewer Alan Pugsley, is crisp, dry, golden ale. Six different images of lighthouses from Maine to Massachusetts adorn its bottles. Part of its sales goes to the foundation.

"Lighthouses are symbols of our maritime past," says Forsley. "Most traditional shipyards, docks, and fish processing plants have disappeared without a trace. Lighthouses endure as a reminder of the seafaring tradition of New England." The new beer was introduced in mid-2001, with a celebration cruise touring Casco Bay. Shipyard Brewing Company, founded in 1994, currently produces 10 different varieties of English style and seasonal ales.

Brewin' In The Wind

By unanimous employee vote in 1999, New Belgium Brewing Company, in Fort Collins, Colorado became America's first totally wind-powered brewery. Today, it's the largest brewery in the world to meet 100% of its energy needs through wind use. Nationally-recognized for its environmental efficiency, the company began on-site water treatment last May, to generate re-usable by-products like methane and nutrient-rich sludge while cleaning the water they used in the brewing process. The methane then fuels a co-generation plant, and the sludge helps build soil. The treatment makes their water clean enough to discharge back into the ground or the Poudre River.

Steam condensers on their kettles allow hot water to be re-used in the brewing process. Sun tubes provide daytime lighting. Their new 200 brewer-barrel Stienecker Brewhouse will be America's most technologically advanced, and 40% more energy efficient than its predecessor. The company recycles everything: damaged cardboard cartons, keg caps, amber glass, office materials, and even plastic shrink-wrap.

Founded in 1991, New Belgium makes 15 handcrafted world-class beers in the Belgian tradition, many of them award winners. The company is socially responsible, too -- and very social: their CEO, Kim Jordan, is also known as "Chief of Fun." The brewery, 34% employee-owned, gives $1 per barrel to charity, balancing donations between cultural, social, environmental, and drug/alcohol awareness programs. After one year of employment, each worker receives a Fat Tire Cruiser bicycle, to encourage biking to work because it's good for the environment. The fifth anniversary gift is a trip to Belgium, for immersion in beer culture.

Does their altruism make business sense? "Wind power does cost more, but we' re glad to do it. We would rather save the environment than save money," says Alex Leedy, a New Belgium spokesperson.

If more breweries follow the examples of these trailblazers, you'll soon be able to choose your cause while you order your beer!


To find out where these beers are sold, check their websites:

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