Last week I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with other business leaders on "Accelerating The Circular Economy." The phrase "the circular economy" is something I hadn't heard much of, but once I had heard it, I heard it everywhere. Like the first time you hear Lizzo.
(And yes, I get the irony that I was on a panel asked to speak on a topic I hadn't really heard much about until recently. But we've been following this practice since the very beginning, even if we didn't quite use the term.)
The basic premise of the circular economy is to design products with an intention to limit waste through designed reuse, recycling, and repair. The goal is to create a closed loop of resources, minimizing waste, pollution, and emissions.
We have a long way to go, and we're inspired by breweries that engineer their own systems for sustainability (looking at you, Alaskan Brewing Company!). But the panel gave me a good opportunity to reflect on our work to support circular economy practices, including:
- composting. Each month, Compost Now helps us divert an average of over 1,000 pounds of organic from landfills to regenerative compost (monthly impact report, PDF).
- reusable food to go packaging through Durham Green To Go. We're a corporate sponsor and a drop-off point for Green To Go, a reusable to-go container service. It's a simple, no-waste solution for ordering (and eating) food on the go.
- products from spent grain. For five years now, we've worked with Durham-based Barley Labs, donating our spent grain for their dog treats. We also work with a farmer collective that uses our spent grain for cattle feed; this practice is common in the beer world.
- circular collaborations. I'm thinking specifically of beers like Farm's Edge: Brumley Forest where we forage for ingredients in a preserved, public land (Brumley Forest, not surprisingly) and make a beer from these ingredients, donating a portion of proceeds back to the non-profit that keeps this land wild and public.
- buying local. In August, we spent nearly $10,000 on five tons of local ingredients: grain from all three North Carolina malt houses, sweet potatoes, hibiscus flowers, and paw paws. So far this year we've contributed over $70,000 to the North Carolina agricultural economy. Since our founding nine years ago, we've purchased 250 tons of local ingredients, supporting the post-tobacco farming economy with direct purchases exceeding $470,000.
We're just getting started. We'll truly reach our goal when we spend a half a million annually on local ingredients, and when our energy usage is truly sustainable and efficient. Note that a number of our beers are leap-frogging up from a few percentage points local to nearly all local, including American Promise paw paw IPA, our 9th Anniversary hazy IPA, and our upcoming Festbier.
Not everybody gets it. From time to time, we get the snide comment that our beers are a "gimmick." Ever the optimist, that simply charges me up. Forces me to do a better job of telling our story (see above). And reminding me that there's opportunity to inform customers on the importance of local and circular economies, and that beer is a pathway toward economic opportunity for farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs in a post-tobacco South. That beer is our love letter to small farms and the Southern wild.