For Kona Brewing Company in Kona, Hawaii, the term “green beer” has nothing to do with frothy, artificially-dyed St. Patrick’s Day swill. The 25-year-old craft outpost -- beloved nationwide for its crisp, easy-drinking Longboard Island Lager and equal parts floral and crushable Big Wave Golden Ale -- has maintained a deep commitment to progressive environmentalism since day one, and for good reason. It’s tough to ignore Mother Nature in a state so prized for its breathtaking, remote, and sometimes unpredictable natural landscape, where living in harmony with the earth is essential to the “way of aloha.”
“This brewing company was created by a father-son team, Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa,” says Billy Smith, senior director of operations at Kona. “They recognized they had an opportunity to bring craft beer here to Hawaii but they wanted make sure they did it in the way of Hawaii, in the way of aloha, and that really means giving back to the community and also making sure that we minimize our impact on the environment. So from the beginning, it's been a big part of our ethos.”
Kona’s modest Big Island brewpub is a staple in the laid-back seaside town, drawing a steady stream of locals and tourists alike with a constantly rotating selection of flagship and one-off exclusives. And eco-friendly practices are everywhere you look, from transforming spent grain from the brewery into housemade pizza crust to watering onsite veggie and herb gardens with captured air-conditioner runoff.
“Between the pub and the brewery, we're at somewhere around 95% waste-diversion going into landfills,” reports Smith.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when Kona recently broke ground on a brand new 30,000-square-foot production facility just down the road from their original brewpub, they decided to ramp up their conservation efforts even further. The move falls squarely in line with continued investments throughout the greater industry.
“Sustainability has always been an important consideration in the craft beer industry,” says Matt Gacioch, the official sustainability ambassador for the Brewers Association, a national trade organization. “The pioneers of craft beer pre-1990 were already finding creative ways of disposing of waste, giving spent grains to farmers and improving the efficiency of their operations. That said, the leaps in technology and wider awareness of sustainability issues in the past decade have led to even more impactful innovations, as well as a broader swath of craft brewers implementing formalized sustainability programs and initiatives.”
As larger producers pave the path to more intensified levels of stewardship, smaller breweries like Kona are able to look to leaders in the field and learn how to adapt and add upon some of those previous advances as they grow and expand.
“Our current brewery does 14,000 barrels a year, and this new one is going to be doing 100,000 once we hit the full capacity,” Smith explains. “We realized we had a great opportunity to take a lot of the technology provided by the industry and apply it so that we can keep minimizing our impact.”