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Green Beer: With a Wind-Powered Brewery and Local Distribution, Will Budweiser Become Hippies' Brew of Choice? 

Wednesday, Jan 28 2015

For San Francisco beer drinkers who believe they're above patronizing a company that advertised its wares via a commercial featuring an ill-placed candle and flatulent horse, the old Budweiser catchphrase of "Nothing Beats a Bud" can be read many ways.

And yet, locals heading through Fairfield may find themselves at the Anheuser-Busch tasting room, sampling Bud, Bud Light, Bud Ice, Busch, Busch Light, Busch Ice, King Cobra, Hurricane High Gravity Malt Liquor, and any number of brews they don't want to drink.

But should they be drinking them?

Visitors to Fairfield will also notice a pair of hulking wind turbines and a solar array that provides up to 30 percent of the brewery's electricity requirements. And, due to Anheuser-Busch's array of North American breweries, the odds are overwhelming that the Bud you purchase locally will have been brewed locally.

Is it more environmentally friendly for locals to buy the (counterintuitively) locally brewed Anheuser-Busch products than twee (objectively better) beers from far-off lands? "That seems like a slam-dunk to me," says Al Weinrub, author of Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California.

And yet, pinpointing a product's environmental impact is like peeling an onion: You reveal layer after endless layer and wind up in tears.

So, yes, Budweiser is produced locally. But how about the raw materials used to make that beer? Are they farmed sustainably? Where do they make the bottles? How about the bottlecaps? How about the paper for the packaging and the beer labels? How about the ink for the paper for the packaging and the labels? And the glue affixing the label onto the bottle? And the components of that glue?

"The problem with this sort of thing," admits UC Davis economist Jim Bushnell, "is that you can keep going on forever."

Making these calculations would be beyond even a willing consumer. But, notes UC Berkeley economist Severin Borenstein, there is a system that could do it for us. It's called "capitalism."

When ethanol is transported into California, Borenstein explains, the pollution created by doing so is accounted for via taxes assessed by the state. We don't do this for, say, the transport of raw materials to brew beer. But we could. And then locally crafted products requiring less pollution to be produced would cost less.

If Budweiser wants to tout its green laurels, UC Berkeley business professor Kellie McElhaney says her research indicates it would resonate more with female shoppers than male ones. Women still do more grocery shopping than men. But men buy more beer.

On the plus side — for Budweiser and, perhaps, the earth — the Millennial Generation is especially susceptible to environmental appeals. And, notes McElhaney, "they buy a lotta beer."

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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