Brewing Beer, Sustainably

Kona Brewing Company takes caring for the environment to a different level, aware of the earth's resources in everything it does.

Fresh, local, island-brewed beers came to Hawaii’s Big Island in 1995 when Kona Brewing Company introduced Pacific Golden Ale (now Big Wave Golden Ale) and Fire Rock Pale Ale.

But these two — and the 12 to 16 other styles of beer that the brewery produces — aren’t just beers. They’re beers that are prepared in the most sustainable way possible, in a building made from many recycled parts, by employees and management who have an eye on sustainability every step of the way.

The company now produces more than 165,000 barrels of beer and has two pub/restaurants in Hawaii. It also produces much of its beer in four breweries on the mainland in order to protect the environment and keep costs down.

Mattson Davis, president and CEO of Kona Brewing Company, speaks to RMGT:

Kona Brewing started out with a dedication to sustainability. What are the beliefs and thoughts that encourage this dedication?

My mom did this in the 1980s before it was cool — she was into precycling and made us think about whether we needed to buy things. My partner, Cameron Healy, grew up in Oregon and his mindset was yoga and healthy; he was a Sikh for 20 years.

So it was upbringing coupled with living on an island and realizing your choices affect everything and your resources are limited. As a leader we have an obligation to pay forward and understanding how our waste can be somebody else’s gold. It’s a constant, constant process.

What are some of the processes you use in your brewery that were developed with an eye towards sustainability?

Our yeast goes to a farm, and we give our spent grain to a cattle rancher; we also use some of the spent grain in our pubs’ pizza dough and breads.

We harvest enough heat off the brewing process and in our restaurant to preheat the water for our hot water needs — like in the brewing and kitchen.

We also have a whiskey barrel that collects more than 90 gallons of condensation per day from our air conditioning systems. That water is then used for landscaping irrigation.

Two years ago we found out we could reduce the weight of our bottles by 11 percent and make them stronger. That slightly changed the shape of our bottles, which meant we could also put more in our shipping containers and reduce our carbon footprint. The estimated savings of that is 3,375 tons of CO2 emitted per year, which is the same as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a car traveling eight million miles.


How else are you sustainable?

Last year we started using solar panels at our headquarters in Kailua-Kona. The 990 panels on our warehouse roof produce roughly 60 percent of the electricity for the pub and brewery.

Over the next 30 years, we expect the system to offset 16,830 barrels of oil, and prevent around 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

You produce some of your beer at four locations on the mainland to reduce transportation costs. How does this save energy?

In 1998, I realized that to grow, it was going to be very expensive and very costly on the environment to bring all those raw materials to Hawaii.

So I decided to expand to the mainland. And now our beer is fresh, it’s local and we keep our carbon footprint low because our beer is transported less.

And when I travel for any reason I try to keep my carbon footprint low. I’m usually gone from 10 days to two weeks because I string things together.

What does your sustainability coordinator do?

She’s helped us realize things. We were going through a case of our biodegradable cups a week with just our staff. So instead, we gave everyone in the company a Klean Canteen.

She’s also looked at what happens to the food scraps [from the restaurant] and now we give the scraps to a pig farmer.

Your building was constructed with many recycled materials; tell us more.

One example of recycling was when a huge mahogany log washed up in our waters so we took the risk of spending a fortune pulling it in and opening it up. It is now the frames of the windows and doors, the side of the bar.

We have used electrical spools for outside tables and umbrellas fit in the middle of them. And we have bought sheets of corrugated metal from Quonset huts that had never been put together during WWII and used this for our roof.

How do you help raise a lot of money for environmental causes?

Our Number One fundraiser every year is the Kona Brewers Festival. Its purpose is to bring awareness to beer, food, and the environment. We reward restaurants for being smart in terms of sustainability.

Also, when people come to ask us for donations, we ask if their work is one of our brand pillars. We are very focused on water and that’s important to us in donations.