The Importance of Healthy Waterways in Craft Brewing with NRDC’s Karen Hobbs

June 26, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to go from New York City now to Chicago with Karen Hobbs, who’s the Senior Policy Analyst for the NRDC’s, the National Resources Defense Council’s, water program, and she’s also the founder of the Brewers for Clean Water campaign. Welcome to Green is Good, Karen Hobbs. KAREN HOBBS: Well, thank you so much. It’s great to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, you know, Karen, you have a great background and bio, and I don’t want to sit here and read it. Why don’t you tell all the listeners, because it’s more exciting for it to come from you? Share with our listeners out there how you got to what you’re doing right now, and tell a little bit about your own journey. KAREN HOBBS: Well, sure. So, I’m a Senior Policy Analyst with the NRDC, as you mentioned. I’ve been with NRDC for about three years, and I have just been extraordinarily lucky in that I had a chance to work for the Clinton administration on water issues as well as green infrastructure and other types of land issue. I also worked for the city of Chicago as the First Deputy Commissioner for the Department of the Environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. OK, so talk a little bit then about how you get over to the NRDC now, and why water? Is that really that important of a topic? KAREN HOBBS: Well, you can’t have life without water, so I think water is about as important as they come. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. And then water with regards to beer – Talk a little bit about the nexus. What’s this Brewers for Clean Water thing you’re working on? That’s interesting to me. I used to be in the brewing business, so I know a little bit about it, and I want you to share with our listeners why was that the nexus that you decided to step into here? KAREN HOBBS: Well, that is so interesting because almost every brew that we talk about with the Brewers for Clean Water campaign, almost everybody has some sort of connection to beer, whether they’re a home brewer, they just love beer, it’s a really deeply connecting thing for us. So, clean water is essential not only for life but for great-tasting beer, as you know, and it’s critical for public health and the health of a wide range of industries. That’s why we really wanted to partner with craft breweries across the country starting in the Midwest, to have them stand up for clean water and to enforce the Clean Water Act. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. So, that makes sense. Talk a little bit about what did you start asking the brewers to do? What did that mean, though, once you started interacting with the brewers, and how did you get them to all come along on specific issues, and what issues were those? KAREN HOBBS: Well, if I can back up for just a second. So, we were really inspired with this campaign from the Huffington Post article that Jen Vervier, the Sustainability Director for New Belgium, wrote in April of last year. The title of the piece was “Clean Water is Good for Business and Good for Beer.” Jen really made the connection between the health of our waterways and the health of the industry, and specifically the health of beer making, of craft brewing specifically. That really inspired us to say, “Hey, you what? We have at a national level the Clean Water Act 40 years ago passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.” One of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws has over the last decade or so seen increasing attacks on some of its core principles. What Jen’s piece really inspired us to do was to reach out to craft brewers and partner with them again to speak up for the Clean Water Act and for clean water in general, using craft beer as the megaphone. You can bring a lot of people together around the topic of beer and over a beer, in a way that you just can’t do from a strictly policy sense. And that’s one of the strengths of the NRDC, I think, is meeting people where they are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Karen, I have to just tell you something. It’s a great point. I want our listeners to hear that. Just two years ago, it seems like yesterday and it seems like forever, when I had Allen Hershkowitz, one of your senior policy leaders, on the show, and he talked about the nexus between sports and the environment and it was the same discussion, of meeting people where they are instead of just espousing about the science of good environmental practices, getting involved with the sports industry and letting that be the platform. I see the brilliance in what you’re doing again with beer now. That makes so much sense. KAREN HOBBS: Well, thank you so much. It’s really been a fun campaign, and a lot of the reason we wanted to work with craft brewers specifically was they are so connected to their communities. Not only are they local employers, but if a change occurs in a water body that they depend upon to make their product, they feel that impact almost immediately, and have to step up and either change the way that they’re treating the water or think about how they’re going to adjust to continue to make that great-tasting craft beer I think so many of us love. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, how did you get the brewers involved? Did you put out some sort of call to action, and how many brewers joined? KAREN HOBBS: So, we launched the campaign officially on April 9th, and we had 21 brewers at that point, that’s Sierra Nevada and New Belgium and Goose Island, as well as local brewers, really focused probably in Illinois and Michigan at this point, and we have a couple in Wisconsin. We just started making some calls in September. We were also lucky enough to hook up with a woman named Lucy Saunders. Lucy is a beer writer and blogger, and she also oversees these conferences around water conservation and efficiency in the Great Lakes, really focused on craft brewers, helping them improve their water conservation and efficiency processes within the brewery. Lucy introduced us to a lot of brewers. I spoke at one of her conferences, and we’ve just kind of gone from there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. And so now, what are you goals? Ultimately, what do you want to accomplish with this campaign? KAREN HOBBS: Well, we have a couple of different goals. One is just to work with the brewers on outreach to their social media followers. Again, these are businesses who are deeply embedded in their communities, and many of them have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of followers. So, how can we work with them to reach out to the people who enjoy their beer, and really make that connection, that literal connection to that great-tasting beer you have in your hand and thanking the Clean Water Act for making that possible? Also, using that connection to highlight when we have threats to water bodies, whether that’s caused by storm water pollution or a lack of definition of which bodies are covered by Clean Water Act at the federal level. That really leads into the second point, which is we think a lot of the brewers will want to engage in weighing in on policy issues. One of the biggest right now is the lack of definition of which water bodies are actually covered by the Clean Water Act. That’s a result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that called into question the full coverage of the Clean Water Act. That’s really important because about 117 million Americans depend upon water bodies which may not have coverage anymore under the Clean Water Act. The Obama administration drafted guidance about two years ago to clarify that question. They released that for pubic comment. They had more than 230,000 public comments, which is a huge number, and they haven’t released the guidance yet. We think that’s just really, really critical, again, not just for the craft brewing industry, but for our public health of our communities and for the other industries that our country depends upon that need clean water in order to operate. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I gotcha. So, that is so well put. So really, you know, we’re down to the last two minutes or so, Karen, so why don’t you talk a little bit beyond just what you’re doing with the brewers. What else is the NRDC doing to protect the Clean Water Act and to help Americans have access to the cleanest and best water possible? KAREN HOBBS: Well, it would take far longer than two minutes. So, I’ll highlight a couple of things. One of our big issues is working with EPA and with states and water utilities to fully incorporate green infrastructure as a strategy to control storm water. Green infrastructure is built and natural systems that literally capture rain wherever it falls, preventing it from hitting our sewer systems to begin with and causing storm water. Storm water pollution is the number one polluter of our rivers, lakes, and streams in this country. Green infrastructure – Just think of things like street trees and bio-soils and green roofs and rain gardens and rain barrels. By capturing that rain where it falls, it can save utilities and states a lot of money in terms of built sewer systems, but it can also be a community amenity. Who wouldn’t rather walk down a street with a bunch of street trees on it or a bio-soil or two vs. a huge pipe to capture our storm water? We spend a lot of time on green infrastructure issues. We’ll also be releasing for the 22nd or 23rd year later in June our testing the beach water quality report. It gives citizens the tools they need to enjoy beaches safely and to understand the causes of pollution, and what they can do to help prevent that pollution on our beaches. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Well, thank you so much, Karen, for joining us today. For our listeners out there, I want you all to go to www.nrdc.org/brewers or just support the NRDC and all their great work. Karen Hobbs, you’re doing great things with the breweries across America and for the Clean Water Act. You’re brewing up great changes in the environment and protecting our water, and are truly living proof that green is good. KAREN HOBBS: Well, thank you so much.