My sojourn in the milieu of Madison has convinced me that the State of Wisconsin is a pretty peachy place. There are a cornucopia of reasons why I <3 Wisconsin, but the top two are easily the state’s strong public trust doctrine and its bountiful selection of beer.
Wisconsin’s public trust doctrine is a series of statutes that protect the state’s navigable waters for Sconnies’ recreational and aesthetic enjoyment. Coincidentally, this sounds somewhat similar to the services provided by Wisconsin’s multitude of microbreweries. These two sets of water values came together earlier this week in Milwaukee at the Great Lakes Craft Brewers & Water Conservation Conference (let’s call it the “Save Water, Drink Beer Conference”). The purpose of this conference was to promote ways in which microbreweries can conserve water during their beer production operations.
While Wisconsin’s navigable waterways are reserved for the public’s enjoyment, the state’s groundwater resources are not as well protected. Nefarious breweries could exploit Wisconsin’s abundant water resources and then move elsewhere when the water is no longer available to serve their needs. However, as this week’s conference shows, some benevolent Wisconsin microbreweries are aware of the blue gift the state has provided them and are willing to spend some extra money to conserve it.
It warms this water resource aficionado’s heart to know Wisconsin breweries such as Leinenkugel’s and New Glarus are willing to be industry leaders in promoting water conservation. With some industries (see: oil) implementing faux-environmentalist or “greenwashing” campaigns, it often seems that many corporations are content to exploit natural resources to make a few dollars. Efforts such as the Save Water, Drink Beer Conference are a great way to show cynical consumers that business can be environmentally conscious.
To promote further industry conservation efforts, consumers should reward companies for their good will. The system of capitalism was designed for consumers to use their money to vote their values, so ordering a Spotted Cow or Berry Weiss at the bar sends a message, albeit a small one, that one supports Wisconsin breweries that value water conservation.
Obviously one libation will not save the Earth, but if individual action can be translated into collective action, measurable positive impacts are possible. Ideally, subversive environmentalists would find a way to embrace capitalism and organize bizarro boycotts that are not anti-, but rather pro-purchasing products from environmentally-friendly companies.
Another conservation impetus can come from within industry itself. I am a sucker for using government regulation to encourage conservation, but surprisingly government cannot solve all of life’s problems. More importantly, conservation initiatives within an industry are much more legitimate because they come from peers and not from faceless government bureaucrats. Brewers who share water saving methods and equipment with one another have the potential to not only spread the water conservation gospel, but also to make conservation the modus operandi within the industry.
Providing support for corporations that are willing to be leaders in environmental conservation is important because the large scale of industry means significant impacts can be achieved. Environmentalists are often wary of associating with business, so it would be another act of subversive environmentalism to recognize that conservation efforts by a few capitalists could have significant positive impacts.
For example, as cited in a Wisconsin State Journal article on Saturday, conservation measures implemented by the Leinenkugel Brewery have reduced its water use from 6 million barrels to less than 3 million barrels each year. At 31 gallons per barrel, those water savings are no mere drop in the bucket. Microbreweries are a relatively small Wisconsin industry, so the water savings elsewhere can be much greater.
Finally, right now in Wisconsin, water is practically free. This makes it even more commendable that there are microbreweries willing to use conservation practices. If water conservation becomes a widely-accepted practice among the state’s industries, perhaps they will provide an unlikely base of support for using increased conservation water rates.
Water prices are kept low through government subsidies, so increased water prices that reflect the actual economic value of the limited resource will give water conservation measures a much greater economic value. Companies that choose to conserve water would have a competitive advantage over those that do not. Fairer water prices would also create incentives for the laggards to come around to team conservation.
Environmentalists often look to the government to implement conservation regulations. However, as this week’s Save Water, Drink Beer Conference shows, companies can actually provide their own impetus for industry-wide conservation. Capitalism can be a scary thing for tree-huggers, but not supporting honest industry conservation efforts misses out on a good opportunity to save water that can be imbibed in a delicious brewski.
Zachary Schuster ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying water resources engineering and water resource management.