Distilleries worldwide are dedicated to changing their practices and infrastructure to contribute to the green revolution and make their industry sustainable. Distilleries once converted 88% of their raw materials into waste, which was often discharged into nearby water tables. Unsatisfied with these results and eager to combat climate change, distillers have since made a concerted effort to improve and maximize efficiencies in their operations, build new facilities that use fewer resources and create less waste, or retrofit existing structures to reduce their environmental impact.
ESG (environmental, social, governance) initiatives have been a key driver in the push toward green distilleries, making operations more sustainable and improving financial performance. By implementing eco-friendly upgrades, distillers also increase efficiency and reduce waste, saving resources while serving the common good. Several steps, such as taking agriculture in-house and reusing water, can help with eco-friendly production, while sourcing recycled and other low-emissions building materials can ensure that new distilleries are built with a minimal carbon impact.
Two of the biggest challenges distilleries face are their need for large amounts of water and making efficient use of the key ingredients in their products. Tequila, which is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, requires significant amounts of water in a particularly arid environment, and plenty of the blue agave that gives the drink its iconic taste. Both of these needs have the potential to create ecological challenges. Many distillers are changing their approaches their approaches to making tequila so they can hit their sustainability goals.
For example, a number of tequila makers are irrigating their fields with collected rainwater and using leftover agave as compost, while others are building onsite water filtration plants to protect the local ecosystem.
Rather than buying agave from large commercial producers, some startup distilleries are growing their own crops to minimize waste. This is an important step, because every lost crop represents water, soil, fertilizer and pesticides used.
Growing and processing crops internally, building water filtration and putting up structures to collect rainwater all require new infrastructure. When building new infrastructure, it’s important to maximize speed to production through close monitoring of design development, carbon accounting, scheduling and budget optimization.
Changing the way that distilleries use resources is a great start, but the increased market for spirits means that green techniques must be factored into initial facility designs, as companies aim to raise their production capacity. The COVID-19 lockdown grew the market for spirits, spurring the need for new or retrofitted facilities to supply more product. However, real estate for new distilleries sells at a premium, and disrupted supply pipelines are a key concern when sourcing materials to build or retrofit a location.
For example, tequila distilleries find steel particularly difficult to acquire in Mexico. Hauling large quantities over from the U.S. creates considerable emissions, requiring offsets in planning and construction. When importing steel for tequila distilleries, some distillers strive to acquire steel in large quantities at once, minimizing the carbon impact, time and cost that could result from transporting it long distances.
Several distilleries have installed solar power as an offset, while others are exploring biofuels. Success with green power sources has had a significant impact, with more than 20% of the industry’s power coming from non-fossil fuels in 2018, up from 3% in 2008.
Building Better Distilleries
Distillers are factoring green ideas not just into their agricultural and construction practices, but into the daily operations of the distilleries themselves. One distiller, for example, is chilling its distillate with a self-cooling water circuit rather than pulling cold water out of nearby rivers. The company illuminates its facility only with natural sunlight and ships its waste to a biogas plant which, in conjunction with a solar panel array, powers the entire operation.
Converting waste into energy is just one way distilleries are shrinking their carbon footprint. Other methods include switching to batch distillation or reusing leftover water from one batch to the next. Several companies are also taking advantage of their colder locations for natural cooling, and others have intentionally built their facilities in colder climates for this purpose.
Other distillers are implementing better packaging methods. While plastic bottles are an obvious source of waste and pollution, glass bottles are heavy, bulky and have a high carbon cost to transport. While recyclable, these bottles are often not recycled or are recycled incorrectly. That’s why distilleries have switched to locally sourced recycled bottles, while some big producers are turning to biodegradable bottles to reduce their overall environmental impact.
All of these solutions have one factor in common: They require new infrastructure to be built. Distilleries must be constructed from scratch or retrofitted to use solar and biofuel energy, natural lighting and ambient cooling. And whether building new distilleries in colder climates, setting up self-cooling or multi-batch vats, or switching from glass to biodegradable bottles, liquor companies need to build these facilities using the best techniques, materials and project controls. And that means bringing in the best construction consultants.
The best option for distilleries of any size looking to build or retrofit sustainable facilities is to work with construction consultants who approach project controls with a healthy understanding of green sourcing, building techniques and value/time optimization.
Project controls is a construction specialty that includes managing costs, schedule and risk within a project. Project controls specialists work with distillery owners to hire facility designers with the economic and environmental skills to meet all goals, and improve operations throughout the construction process to guarantee the successful completion of green facilities at minimal risk.
Consultants also work with designers to create a master plan for the site, recommend a budget to the client and continue working with both the distillery owner and the designer throughout the construction process. Project controls consultants can implement processes that ensure accurate, reliable information is communicated to all stakeholders, as well as real-time reporting.
These experts minimize a project’s risk factor while optimizing speed and cost, to ensure projects have adequate time and capital to implement sustainability solutions. They can provide reliable project outcomes to keep stakeholders engaged. Project controls professionals should be brought in at the site selection stage to help manage the commercial expectations and mitigate risk on a project from inception to completion.
One of the key benefits of hiring a consultant is expertise in sourcing materials at the RFP stage and assisting to cut. After all, what’s the point of having green operations if building the facility itself creates a large negative environmental impact? Project controls specialists can make a big difference overall in procurement, using their connections and expertise to streamline material budgets.
Distilling businesses often publicize their environmental goals as part of their marketing, and face public criticism if they fall off track in meeting those targets. By engaging and listening to the right construction experts, distilleries can continue to enjoy the goodwill of their customer base while making real strides toward creating a more efficient carbon-neutral spirits industry.