Beer is big business, and two University of Southern Maine (USM) students are working to make Maine breweries more sustainable.
Senior students Kathleen Rattazzi (Tourism and Hospitality) and Cameron Reynolds (Economics) have spent their fall semesters evaluating the business practices of Maine breweries and identifying ways they can be more sustainable.
The TAH program at USM educates students to develop a creative, innovative workforce to sustain and grow Maine’s leading industry; Food Studies focuses on food systems and critical evaluation of food-related issues. Both Rattazzi and Reynolds minor in Food Studies, and are paid to do the work through the Food Studies Program with Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF) investment.
Their internship is part of a Pollution Prevention grant awarded from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the New England Environmental Finance Center (EFC), housed within USM’s Cutler Institute. The Tourism and Hospitality program and nonprofit environmental research organization Manomet are partnered on the grant, with the goal of identifying process improvements to reduce and prevent pollution in Maine breweries.
Students will work for two years with both sustainability experts from Manomet and craft brewers. The service-learning opportunity will allow students to work onsite with businesses, analyzing real data, to report back their recommendations for pollution prevention in the brewing process.
The EFC also received a Healthy Communities grant from EPA to work with the brewers on using less-toxic cleaning and sanitizing chemicals, developed by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. TURI is providing resources and a testing facility for students to use throughout the duration of the grant. The Maine Brewers’ Guild supports the goals of the EFC grants.
The craft beer industry in the United States currently has a revenue stream of $6.8 billion, according to the market research site IBISWorld, and has an annual growth rate of 11.8%. In Maine, breweries contributed a $656 million impact on the local economy in 2018, according to the Brewers Association.
That growth means that research in sustainable practices and pollution prevention will be key for the future of the beer sector in the food and beverage industry.
Rattazzi and Reynolds are working with five breweries, picking through each company’s bills and taking stock of nearly every detail. These include, among other factors, the electricity and water used, total wastewater produced and the amount of carbon dioxide given off during the brewing process.
Once they collect the data, they input it into the Brewers Association Sustainability Benchmarking Tool, which allows them to track those details and compare them between other breweries in the database. From there, the two students look at the data and determine recommendations for how the businesses could be more sustainable and run more efficiently.
“This allows Cameron and I to go about understanding best practices for process improvement,” Rattazzi said. “All of these breweries are looking to be more sustainable and our job is to get them there.”
One of the many ways this can be achieved is by using cleaning products with less environmental impact than conventional products. Rattazzi and Reynolds have partnered with TURI and South Portland-based Island Dog Brewing to test new, “greener” combinations of cleaning and sanitizing chemicals to see what can replace those more toxic cleaners during brewing.
The interns are working with TURI to simulate a brewing environment using a set of 98 stainless steel plates, Reynolds said. TURI students will then dirty those plates using trub — debris left behind during brewing — taken from Island Dog Brewing, and clean them using different combinations of cleaning and sanitizing alternatives.
So far, the entire experience has been beneficial for Jim Denz, co-owner/head brewer of Island Dog Brewing.
Denz said he’s wanted to do a sustainability audit since his brewery opened in 2017 — he just hasn’t had the time. But with help from USM's interns, he is now able to realize that goal.
“We’re a really small company, and it was something that I’ve wanted to do for the last year and a half,” he said. “It was super helpful, and gave me the incentive to get everything done that I needed.”
Peter Cooke, director of retail sustainability at Manomet — and co-author of the EPA grant — said it’s particularly unique for undergraduate students to work on a grant-funded project, and this experience will distinguish them from other candidates when they enter the workforce after graduation.
“It helps prepare them if they can go to actual businesses, collect and input actual data, and work on actual sustainability challenges,” said Cooke, who also teaches sustainable hospitality management within the TAH program. “The students we’re graduating are coming into the job market more prepared than the average graduate.”
The opportunity has made a world of difference for Reynolds, who has tailored his minor in Food Studies to have a focus within Tourism and Hospitality.
“I don’t think I could’ve gotten this opportunity anywhere else. This is my first internship and it’s pretty much changed my whole career at USM,” he said.
Sara Ghezzi, interim chair of the TAH program, said nearly every course of the program has a service-learning component, preparing students to tackle a number of industry-related issues.
“Through the service-learning piece and working with community partners, students are coming out with those workforce and networking opportunities,” she said.
According to Martha Sheils, director of the EFC and co-author of the grant, this program will serve as a model for collaboration between EFCs and universities around the country.
"The collaboration between USM programs and the EFC is a model for boosting student internships with local businesses," she said. "These projects offer USM student interns an opportunity to apply their USM training to real world scenarios and to become the next generation of sustainability leaders."
The experience, Rattazzi said, has helped her realize some of her future career goals. She wants to seek out something related to the field of sustainability, and encourage more businesses to consider sustainable business practices.
“This definitely has made me think more about sustainability on a bigger scale,” she said. "I want to be a leader in a company and influence my fellow colleagues to live a greener and healthier life as well as the clients. It all starts small and builds to be something greater than yourself and your company; it’s gets to be what life truly is today.”
Story and Photos by Alan Bennett // Office of Public Affairs