Everyone knows that Boulevard Brewery makes excellent beer. But did you know that they are also doing everything right for the environment? Michael Utz is the Director of Engineering at Boulevard Brewing Company. He’s been with Boulevard for 15 years and oversees most of the sustainability initiatives. In this interview, Michael answers questions about the many sustainability practices at Boulevard.
1. What are 4 things anyone can do right now to be a better recycler?
Michael: 1. Learn what your hauler/processor takes and doesn’t take in the regular stream. 2. Seek outlets for other waste materials to improve diversion. 3. Keep recyclables as clean as possible to reduce contaminants at processor. 5. Teach a friend/family member about recycling.
2. The condescending use of tree hugger and granola to describe someone who cares about our environment seems to have gone away. Why do you think that happened?
Michael: I don’t know that that has happened completely (I’m guilty of occasional tongue-in-cheek references to myself as a “tree hugger”) but I really think environmental awareness through all forms of media has brought positive attention to the cause and people are beginning to pay attention to the fact that we were given just one earth.
3. What is the worst name you have been called while at Boulevard?
Michael: Probably that same “tree hugger” referred to above.
4. Describe what happens to a gallon of water when it enters Boulevard.
Michael: Our water starts as Missouri River water as it is taken from the river above the Kansas-Missouri confluence. That fact aside, we receive water from the Kansas City Municipal Water system. The water goes through several steps of filtration, dechlorination, softening, deaeration, ultraviolet sterilization, depending on where it will be used in the brewery. About one gallon of every four and a half gallons we bring into the brewery ends up leaving as beer with most of the remainder being used for cleaning operations prior to being discharged into our sewer system.
Michael: Our water usage reduction goal for 2012 was 5% but we actually achieved another 12% reduction compared to 2011 rates. For the first half of 2013 we are trending at a 10% reduction compared to 2012.
6. What happens to the grain? Does all spent grain go to feed local cattle?
Michael: Our brewing process extracts most of the sugars from whole grains – barley and wheat – before discharging those grains to our spent grain system. Spent brewers grains are an excellent nutrition source for cattle and that is their primary use in the U.S. The spent grains can also be used as fillers in other animal feeds and I’ve also heard of them being used in breads, crackers and other foods for human consumption.
7. Can cows get drunk from eating the spent grain?
Michael: Spent grains do not contain alcohol as they haven’t been fermented so no, the cows that eat them do not get drunk.
8. You have no trash dumpster at Boulevard. Do your employees pack out any trash that they create? Do you embrace an urban style of Leave No Trace?
Michael: Well, when we first embarked on our “zero landfill” initiative, that’s exactly what we told our employees – they were responsible for any waste they generated. It didn’t take very long for people to adjust their behaviors to eliminate trash. I like the idea of Leave No Trace but find it very easy for people to use a waste receptacle if it’s available, especially in the absence of appropriate recycling options.
9. Sustainability is a foundational idea at Boulevard. Do you think that influences your employee to be better recyclers at home? Do you think you influence the public to be better recyclers?
Michael: We think we have been a positive influence on our employees because we take the time to educate them on the how’s and why’s of recycling behavior. Beyond that, to the public we try to lead with a positive example through all the tours and events we do each year as well as speaking about it every chance we get.
10. Boulevard has been instrumental in the success of glass recycling at Ripple Glass. Is this a common practice with all breweries?
Michael: We were presented with a unique opportunity/challenge with glass in Kansas City – no glass recycling options because there was no glass processor and no glass processor because there were no glass recycling options. A classic chicken and egg situation. Given our strong commitment to glass through our bottling operations, we decided that we should help solve that recycling dilemma so we could justify continuing use of bottles. That ultimately led to the formation of Ripple Glass. We can proudly state that the results have been astounding and, in 2013, through Ripple Glass we will recycle about four times the glass packaging used at Boulevard!
11. What most excites you for the future of sustainability at Boulevard?
Michael: Sustainability for us is about more than recycling. It’s about resource efficiency. The more efficiently we use our resources – electricity, water, packaging materials, labor, etc. – the more sustainable we become. This is a never ending process of continuous improvement.
12. What other local businesses do an excellent job in the area of sustainability?
Michael: Hallmark has shown great leadership in this area and provided a lot of support for us as we got our program started.
13. What is the biggest I-am-glad-we-don’t-do-that-anymore for you at Boulevard?
Michael: That’s got to be “making trash”. It really is a good feeling to know that your company is trying to make such a positive difference in their community!
14. What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Michael: Camping with my family.
15. Which Boulevard beer are you enjoying most right now?
Michael: First of all that’s an unfair question because it’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite. However, Pale Ale is the beer that suits me on most occasions and I will never, ever turn down one of our Smokestack offerings!
16. What is the best way for the public to connect with Boulevard?
Michael: The best way to connect is to go on a tour of our facilities to see all the cool things we’re doing and enjoy some delicious beer!