Food Processing Awards Anheuser-Busch/Fairfield 2013 Green Plant of the Year

Anheuser-Busch's Fairfield, Calif. brewery is a leader in renewable energy technology for AB InBev breweries around the world and uses green energy provided by an on-site solar array and wind turbine to provide an average 15 percent of its energy needs.

By Rory Gillespie, Contributing Editor

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For the fourth year, we asked you to help us honor the best recent examples of green/sustainable plants. Back in June, we whittled a dozen or so nominations to three: Campbell Soup Co.'s Napoleon, Ohio, plant; Frito-Lay in Beloit, Wis.; and Anheuser-Busch's Fairfield, Calif., brewery. All are shining examples of sustainable manufacturing.

We asked all three companies for 200-word essays to help familiarize you with their efforts. Then we put all three essays and a poll on our web site during July, and 3,043 of you picked the winner: Anheuser-Busch/Fairfield.

Anheuser-Busch, Fairfield, Calif.: Giving Back to Mother Nature

Using Mother Nature's assets, such as barley malt and a blend of premium hops, Anheuser-Busch InBev has become a world leader in the beverage industry. Now the company is trying to repay the favor.

The company's Fairfield, Calif., brewery is the leader in renewable energy technology for AB InBev breweries around the world. The plant is using green energy provided by an on-site solar array and wind turbine to provide an average 15 percent of its energy needs. In addition, an anaerobic digester system generates biogas from pre-treatment of brewery wastewater. This biogas supplies 15 percent of the brewery's natural gas fuel requirements.

Later this year, the brewery plans to install a solar thermal heating array and a second wind turbine to expand use of green energy. Fairfield has employed some innovative techniques to drastically reduce water use by over 45 percent since 2006, and has a recycling rate of more than 99 percent.

For those and other reasons, the Fairfield brewery won our 2013 Green Plant of the Year competition – although the real reason is it collected more votes than our two other worthy nominees: Frito-Lay's Beloit, Wis., plant and Campbell Soup Co.'s thermal processing plant in Napoleon, Ohio. It was your votes – a whopping 3,043 of them – that handed this honor to Anheuser-Busch in an online poll, our fourth annual contest, during the month of July.

"I've got to say this is pretty neat," says Kevin Finger, senior general manager of the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield facility. He's in his 34th year with AB after beginning his career as a packaging operator in the Williamsburg, Va., plant. "I looked at the other facilities involved – Frito-Lay and Campbell's -- and that's a lot of tough competition. For us it's an honor even to be considered."

The Fairfield brewery dates back to 1976 and is in the top 25 percent of AB InBev's breweries in terms of production, turning out 4-5 million barrels of fermented beverages a year. The 700,000-sq.-ft. plant sits on 170 acres a few miles from Napa. Anheuser-Busch has been recycling grain since the 1800s, and Fairfield carried on that tradition as soon as it opened.

The anaerobic digester is sustainable in two ways. "It takes our recycled beer [beer that does not get packaged for various reasons] from brewing," Finger says, cleaning up the effluent before it's sent to the municipal system. It reduces demand to the sewer district by an average of 50 percent.

"We have inside that anaerobic digester what we call our happy bugs that digest material and create methane gas," Finger continues. "We scrub and compress and blend that in our boilers with our natural gas." The process also cuts natural gas usage by about 15 percent.

Finger credited the roughly 200 full and part-time workers with keeping the company green. "We certainly appreciate the recognition, and the employees are excited about it. This brewery in particular has multiple generations of employees who have expressed an interest and desire to be as good as we can be in our environmental impacts."

The Fairfield plant has a number of sustainability accolades. California's Dept. of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) named the facility a Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) winner. So did the California Integrated Waste Management Board, marking the 16th time the Fairfield brewery was a WRAP winner. (The WRAP program honors businesses for reducing the amount of trash they produce, conserving resources, educating employees and lowering waste disposal in landfills.)

The Fairfield plant produces Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch, Busch Light, Natural Light, Natural Ice, Rolling Rock and Rock Light. It ships approximately 85 trucks a day and 60 railcars a week of product. It also hosts more than 40,000 visitors annually.

Corporately, Anheuser-Busch says, "We are committed to brewing the highest quality beers, improving our environmental performance, and making a positive impact on our communities. We focus our efforts both inside and outside our breweries on the key issues of water, energy, and recycling. We have made great progress and will continually strive to do more."

The company claims to have reduced water use by 40 percent since 2007; brews 16 percent of its beers with renewable fuels; and has a company-wide brewery recycling rate of 99.6 percent. It lists among its environmental programs recycling, solar and solar-thermal power, hydroelectric power, wind power, landfill gas, biogas, combined heat and power generation, water savings, land application and spent grain as cattle feed.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, is the largest brewing company in the U.S. It operates 12 breweries in the States, and Finger points out all the plants are working to be greener, most with technologies such as solar panels, although his is the only one with power from a wind turbine.

"Our company has a long standing history on focusing on the environment and how we use our resources," Finger continues. "Multiple generations of employees over the years have taken that as sort of their charge. And employees have been fantastic with our suggestion program, where as a team or individual they have put together programs that benefit the facility and benefit the environment.

"It's really an ongoing effort and part of the company culture we have at Anheuser-Busch. We are never really satisfied with results and always striving to get better. As time has gone along, our people really understand and believe in that. And they want to continue to make the world's best quality beer out of northern California and do it in an environmentally and economically feasible fashion."

A second wind turbine, which he hopes at times will be able to feed power to the public grid, will be under construction soon, and the facility's fully installed solar thermal field is getting very close.

Additionally, the brewery is committed to helping the environment outside its walls. Fairfield's employees have participated in numerous community events to help clean-up and protect local watersheds that include the Suisun Waterfront and its primary water source, Lake Berryessa. More information on the company's environmental efforts can be found at www.anheuser-busch.com.

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