How Much CO2 is Produced by Brewing Beer?

Just how much c02 is produced by making beer? What are some sustainable practices that could make brewing greener? Find out here.


Mat Stuckey

10/1/20236 min read

brown cardboard box near gray tanks in a beer brewery
brown cardboard box near gray tanks in a beer brewery

How Much CO2 is Produced by Brewing Beer?

Brewing beer emits a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon footprint of beer production can vary greatly depending on factors like the batch size, alcohol content, and packaging format. For a small 20L homebrew batch, expect to produce between 400 and 600L of CO2. On a commercial scale, breweries emit much higher amounts - around 10 pounds of CO2 per barrel produced.

Overall, beer has a lower environmental impact than other alcoholic beverages like wine or spirits. This is due to efficiencies in the brewing process. However, the beer industry still has great potential to reduce its carbon footprint through sustainable brewing practices.

What Contributes to the Carbon Footprint of Beer?

There are several aspects of the commercial beer production process that contribute to its carbon footprint:

  • Upstream Impacts: The production of raw materials like barley and hops can involve significant greenhouse gas emissions from fertiliser use and transportation. Locally sourcing brewing ingredients can help reduce these upstream impacts.

  • Malting Process: The malting process requires heating and drying the barley to trigger germination. This can contribute to fossil fuel use and emissions. Using renewable energy can help reduce impacts.

  • Brewing Process: The commercial brewing process itself requires heating and cooling, which uses energy. Some eco-conscious breweries are incorporating solar panels and other renewables to reduce grid electricity use.

  • Fermentation Process: During fermentation, yeast converts sugars into CO2 and alcohol. Capturing and reusing this CO2 production can reduce the need to purchase CO2.

  • Packaging: Glass bottles and aluminium cans require significant energy to produce and transport. Rethinking packaging formats and distribution logistics can help lower emissions.

  • Distribution: Transporting beer from breweries out to retailers contributes to the carbon footprint through fuel use. Prioritising local sales reduces distribution impacts.

  • Waste: Beer wastewater and other byproducts from brewing require treatment, which contributes additional emissions. Proper treatment and reuse reduces waste impacts.

According to the Brewers Association, the average carbon footprint for a 6-pack of beer is around 5.1kg CO2e. However, there is significant variation between breweries based on size, energy sources, and efficiency. Larger breweries producing over 6 million barrels per year average around 4kg CO2e per 6-pack, while smaller breweries can be higher at 7kg CO2e on average.

Strategies for Sustainable Beer Production

The good news is breweries of all sizes can take action to lower their carbon footprint and improve sustainability:

  • Sourcing Local Ingredients: Sourcing local, organic ingredients reduces upstream transportation emissions and supports local economies. Hops and barley represent the largest impacts.

  • Renewable Energy: Installing on-site renewables like solar panels, wind turbines, or biogas capture reduces fossil fuel use for electricity and heating.

  • Energy Efficiency: Upgrading to energy efficient brewing equipment cuts electricity and fuel needs. Optimising HVAC and steam generation offers savings.

  • Water Conservation: Using high-efficiency brewing equipment and reusing water reduces freshwater needs. Monitoring usage identifies savings opportunities.

  • Wastewater Treatment: Installing on-site treatment and finding uses for waste yeast and trub (sediment) reduces discharge impacts.

  • CO2 Capture & Reuse: Capturing CO2 from fermentation reduces the need to purchase CO2 for carbonation. The CO2 can also be cleaned and sold for reuse.

  • Sustainable Packaging: Lightweighting glass and cans, maximising pallet space, and shifting to eco-friendly 6-pack holders cuts packaging impacts.

  • Distribution Efficiency: Choosing fuel-efficient transport modes, optimising logistics networks, and prioritising local sales lowers distribution emissions.

  • Circular Design: Finding uses for spent grains, hops, and yeast for animal feed or compost reduces waste while supporting circular systems.

Comparative Carbon Footprints of Beer & Other Alcohol

Multiple life cycle assessments (LCAs) have found that beer generally has a lower carbon footprint compared to other alcoholic beverages:

  • Beer vs. Wine: A glass of beer produces around 0.24kg CO2e while a glass of wine generates around 0.29kg CO2e, according to a study by the University of Surrey. The larger impacts of wine are due to bottling, packaging, and transport.

  • Beer vs. Spirits: The Surrey study found a glass of spirit produces around 0.56kg CO2e - more than double beer. Distillation of spirits is far more energy intensive than brewing beer.

  • Swedish Study: A study on alcohol in Sweden found beer generates 0.73-1.1 kg CO2e per litre, while wine (1.1-2.4 kg CO2e/litre) and spirits (1.9-2.4 kg CO2e/litre) produce higher emissions.

  • Organic Production: Organic beer has a slightly higher footprint than conventional due to lower yields. However, organic practices benefit soil health and ecosystems.

So beer compares favourably in terms of carbon footprint due to its relatively efficient brewing process and low-impact ingredients like barley and hops. However, wine and spirits producers are also improving sustainability.

Is Homebrewing More Sustainable?

Home brewing beer on a small scale can be more sustainable than commercial brewing in some aspects:

  • Energy Use: Homebrewing typically uses less energy for heating, cooling, and transport compared to commercial beer production. No industrial equipment needed.

  • Packaging: Homebrewers often use reusable glass bottles from commercial beers rather than new bottles. Less packaging waste is generated.

  • Ingredients: Homebrewing requires fewer raw ingredients overall, resulting in less upstream impacts from agriculture.

  • Waste: Spent grains and yeast from homebrewing can be composted rather than sent to landfills. Wastewater can be re-used for gardens.

However, when compared per gallon produced, homebrewing may use more energy and water than commercial brewing which benefits from economies of scale. And packaging from commercial breweries is often recyclable.

Overall, homebrewing reduces individual beer drinkers' environmental impact by avoiding commercial production and transport. Homebrewers also gain the satisfaction of crafting unique recycled brews.

The Role of Beer in a Low-Carbon Future

The beer industry has an opportunity to lead the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage globally, so improvements add up quickly:

  • Industry Leadership: Beer companies like Heineken and Carlsberg have already committed to ambitious sustainability targets around energy, water use, and packaging. More breweries need to follow suit.

  • Renewable Transition: Beer production provides a large-scale use case for deploying renewable energy and demonstrating its viability. This supports broader adoption.

  • Circular Systems: The industry can showcase circularity by finding uses for by-products like spent grains and CO2 in animal feed and carbonation.

  • Sustainable Agriculture: Sourcing sustainable ingredients promotes farming practices that capture carbon in soils and preserve natural ecosystems.

  • Consumer Awareness: Sustainable beer helps raise consumer awareness of eco-friendly products. This drives adoption of sustainability across industries.

By greening the full production lifecycle - from agriculture to packaging to distribution - breweries can boost their sustainability. Tackling the climate crisis requires action across all industries, and beer companies have an opportunity to show leadership. The resulting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and natural resource use will benefit the global environment while preserving the world's favourite beer drink.

If you want more information about beer brewing and production, head over the the Brewpedia blog now!

Earth is more valuable than money signage
Earth is more valuable than money signage


What are some eco-friendly brewing solutions?

Some examples of sustainable brewing solutions include:

  • BiofineTM Eco - An organic fining agent made from potato starch that reduces beer haze.

  • Fermcap-EcoTM - An anti-foam agent derived from vegetable oils to prevent boilovers.

  • EcoBrewTM systems - Pre-configured brewing systems designed for energy/water efficiency.

  • Hops collected via CO2 extraction - Uses recycled CO2 to extract hop oils, reducing waste.

  • Solar thermal heating - Uses solar power to heat water for brewing and cleaning.

How can breweries implement carbon reduction strategies?

Breweries have several options to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Conduct an energy audit to identify efficiency opportunities.

  • Install renewables like solar PV, solar thermal, or biogas power.

  • Improve insulation, HVAC, and steam generation systems.

  • Switch to energy-efficient brewing and refrigeration equipment.

  • Optimize lighting with LEDs, sensors, and daylighting.

  • Recover waste heat for heating needs.

  • Purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset usage.

What are some carbon offsetting options for breweries?

Carbon offsetting allows breweries to invest in environmental projects to counterbalance emissions. Options include:

  • Forestry projects that plant trees for carbon sequestration.

  • Funding renewable energy projects like wind farms.

  • Capturing methane emissions from landfills.

  • Supporting cleaner cookstoves and heating solutions.

  • Investing in community composting facilities.

  • Purchasing carbon credits from verified offset providers.

How does sustainable agriculture benefit beer production?

Sustainable agriculture techniques offer benefits for both beer production and the environment:

  • Building healthy soils high in organic matter to grow hops and barley.

  • Using cover crops and crop rotations to increase soil carbon sequestration.

  • Reducing use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

  • Promoting biodiversity to support beneficial insects and bird species.

  • Improving soil nutrient balance and water retention.

  • Capturing methane from farm waste for renewable energy.

  • Providing habitat for pollinators and natural pest control.

  • Reducing soil erosion and improving water quality.