Water footprints

What Imperial’s water positive beer looks like in Colorado

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Last year, Imperial invested money into the Yampa River project, managed by the Colorado Water Trust, in order to recover and protect more water.

Costa Rican beer company Imperial made a bold statement last month with the announcement of “the world’s first and only water positive beer.” It’s a beer the company says adds more water to the environment than it uses. Along with the announcement came a U.S. launch of Imperial Silver, only available in Colorado. But why would a brewery based in Costa Rica be marketing their new beer in Colorado? Heck, what does “water positive beer” even mean?

It’s all part of a bigger plan to reduce the water footprint of Imperial, put into place by its parent company, Florida Ice & Farm Company (FIFCO), in March of this year.

“All the products we launch are measured economically, socially and environmentally,” says Antonio Macias, export manager of Imperial. “We want brands that leave no footprint to the environment, or socially. Brands that are as light as air.”

It’s a philosophy Macias says will be expanded to FIFCO’s other brands by 2020, something the company calls “air brands.”

In the manufacturing process itself, Imperial has managed to curb its water usage through streamlining the brewing process and reducing the amount of water it uses by 44 percent, according to Gisela Sanchez, the director of corporate relations. Imperial has invested in newer technology and reuses water, while at the same time using less of the vital resource. Of course in the world of brewing this is nothing new. Water-conscious brewing already happens here in Boulder.

Avery Brewery has decreased its water consumption 15-20 percent over the last year by not using water for arbitrary cleanup procedures — such as sweeping the floor with water — and non-extensive rinses, according to Bernardo Alatorre, production manager at Avery.

“We are very aggressive on the efficiency of our processes,” Alatorre says. “By consolidating our production runs, we’re getting 50 percent more beer for the water we are wasting.”

But it takes a lot more than internal water conservation to be considered an air brand.

Courtesy of Imperial
Imperial, a Costa Rican beer company, brought its “water positive beer” project to Colorado to further offset water usage.

In order to achieve water positivity, the Costa Rican company invests in projects across Costa Rica where the water is sourced, enabling it to offset water usage. Nevermind the fact that Colorado ranks second in number of breweries nationally, Imperial invested in the same idea in the Centennial State due to its environmental awareness and willingness to conserve water, a factor that Macias says Colorado shares with Costa Rica.

“Boulder in particular is an environmentally conscious community that has very similar values, like [Costa Rica],” Macias states.

Imperial teamed up with nonprofit Colorado Water Trust (CWT) to bring its water positive message to Colorado, investing an undisclosed amount of money into the existing Yampa River project run by the trust. Since Imperial already makes investments in Costa Rican waterways, the company seeks to inspire others to practice better water management and sustainability. However, adding water to any Colorado water stream is quite complicated.

“Under Colorado water law, water is property interest separate and distinct from land ownership,” says Amy Beatie, executive director of CWT. “You can have an entire river running through your property and not be entitled to dip a bucket in it and take a drop out of that river.”

Much like carbon credits are used by industrial companies to offset their carbon footprint, water in Colorado is subjected to a marketplace structure where someone can buy rights to a certain section or amount of water in a stream with little restriction as to how much they can use.

“Colorado law doesn’t have a requirement that a river stay flowing,” Beatie says. “In fact, we have a constitutional provision that says ‘the right to divert the unappropriated waters of the State of Colorado shall never be denied.’”

With the Colorado water rights system set firmly in place, the main goal of water conservation by CWT is to buy water rights from private owners and make sure the water stays in the stream. With help from Imperial, CWT has already bought 1,200 acre-feet (391 million gallons) this year for the Yampa, and may buy more at the end of the season.

Unless water rights in Colorado change, this is what being water positive looks like: not necessarily adding any new water, but recovering and protecting the water that is otherwise used by private owners.

Correction: The article previously stated Imperial silver was recently reissued in the United States instead of launched for the first time. It also previously failed to mention that Imperial offsets its water usage by investing in water projects in Costa Rica, as well as promoting sustainability in Colorado. We apologize for the inconvenience.