Thirsty work: Assessing the environmental footprint of craft beer

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This study assessed the environmental footprint of craft micro-breweries in Wales using attributional life cycle assessment with an expanded boundary to account for the use of co-products as animal feed on local farms. Seven breweries took part in this study, each with unique characteristics, inter alia, annual beer production volumes, batch capacity, beer to water ratio and packaging formats. Value chain stages included barley and hop cultivation, upstream processing, upstream distribution of brewing ingredients, brewery production, packaging, downstream distribution of beers and waste management. Contrary to previous studies of mass-produced beer where packaging has been found to be the hotspot driving the largest share of environmental burdens, this study found downstream distribution to be the unexpected hotspot owing to inefficient use of light commercial vehicles for regional distribution of the beer. Packaging burdens for micro-breweries were modest owing to the majority of beer being distributed in re-usable casks and kegs rather than bottles. But where bottles were used, contract bottling increased transport requirements and footprints. Carbon footprints ranged from 760 to 1900 g CO2 eq. per L beer, whilst for fossil resource depletion ranged from 12 to 30 MJ per L. Normalised scores were highest for fossil resource depletion, global warming potential, acidification, terrestrial eutrophication, freshwater eutrophication, marine eutrophication and photochemical ozone formation. Distribution and packaging present opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of craft beers that require further investigation.


  • Life cycle assessment, sustainable brewing, craft beer, microbrewery, LCA, sustainable food production
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-253
Number of pages12
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Early online date7 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
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