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USM's center awarded $340k to help sustainability in Maine beverage businesses

Martha Sheils at EPA announcement

A University of Southern Maine office has received $350,000 to boost its work to support sustainability among Maine’s craft beverage manufacturers.

The money will be used by USM’s New England Environmental Finance Center to help 15 to 20 craft beverage businesses —  potentially including breweries, distilleries, wineries or cider makers within the state — to identify and improve processes impacting the environment. Common goals include using less water, reducing the use of toxic cleaners and finding better ways of handling waste materials such as spent grains.

It’s something that the USM-based office has already been doing for the last couple of years with the help of more than a dozen student interns. When the pandemic allowed, the students have been visiting breweries and working through the process of finding more environmentally friendly methods.

The real world experience for the students has been extraordinary, said Peter Cooke, a lecturer in the Tourism and Hospitality program and a member of the New England Environmental Finance Center.

“We’re training students while they’re still in school rather than learning on the job,” Cooke said.

The additional money will allow the center, a part of USM’s Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, to bring in more student interns while helping more businesses, said Martha Sheils, the center’s director.

“Our Maine brewers are excellent environmental stewards and we are so grateful that they are open to new approaches and new ideas to increase their sustainability,” Sheils said.

The Maine program is part of a New England-wide initiative that will serve as a model for similar efforts in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions.

"Maine's craft beverage industry is an important economic driver in Maine. With over 145 breweries and growing, this sector added more than $600 million to the Maine economy in 2021 alone. Every weekend, especially during summer, we see tourists and locals alike visiting Maine's many fine breweries and contributing to our local economy. Yet these businesses use significant water, energy, and chemicals in their day-to-day operations. With the renewed support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollution Prevention Program, we are proud to assist the Maine craft beverage industry - building upon our work with dozens of breweries to date - take action to reduce their environmental footprint, continue to serve their communities, and bolster the state's economy," Sheils said.

The USM grant is one of three P2 grants being awarded in New England, for a combined total of $1.05 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, and in turn are part of 39 grants announced nationally that will share nearly $12 million. 

"EPA is very pleased that this grant for University of Southern Maine will help reduce pollution from being created in the first place," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Funding authorized by Congress and the Biden Administration in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will reduce pollution in many communities, including some of Maine's urban neighborhoods. This will in turn protect people's health where they live, work and play."