Impact Focus: Environmental Advocacy

At Yakima Chief Hops, we pride ourselves on responsible business operations, emphasizing long-term success, and the belief that creating value for local communities and the planet is every bit as crucial as shareholder value. We work tirelessly to reduce our carbon footprint, lessen dependence on natural resources, and eliminate waste while empowering our communities along the way. We recognize that industry collaboration is the pivotal force for driving meaningful change and hope to inspire others to join us in creating a sustainable future. 

We’ve always been self-starters. Farmer ingenuity has been ingrained into the core of our business since our inception back in 1988. However, as much as we care, our impact as an individual company alone can’t solve the global climate crisis. Making change requires momentum and a sustained push - it takes a collective majority working together. Our livelihood depends on our ability to protect these beautiful lands where we farm. Our intention is to enlist help both inside and outside of the brewing industry to ensure we have sustainable water and land to grow hops in the Pacific Northwest for generations to come.  In addition to implementing regenerative farm practices, we have ramped up our efforts in environmental advocacy.   

Advocating for the outdoors, specifically agricultural land, is essential for ensuring a healthy future for our people and our planet, not to mention protecting our favorite outdoor recreation spaces. We rely heavily on natural waterways and landscapes to grow hops and to fill our adventurous needs of connecting with nature.  

On the flip side, we recognize our role as consumers of natural resources and inputs needed for growing hops, thereby contributing to carbon emissions that adversely affect these natural ecosystems. We use energy to power our facilities, fuels to run our tractors and trucks, and water to irrigate our lands. We cannot turn a hypocritical eye to the impact our business may have on the land. We feel strongly that the practices we continue to adopt help to elevate regeneration. After all, this is our livelihood, and yours, and if left unchecked our future is in jeopardy. This personal connection to nature is what drives us to be intentional.  

To further our commitment to being environmental stewards, Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) partners with organizations whose focus is to protect these lands and waterways by enacting protection policies. Environmental advocacy via civic engagement is something we believe is of central importance at YCH and our family of growers. Bringing farmers' perspectives to the table is something we don’t shy away from and want to ensure conservation and sustainable land management are balanced from an environmental perspective but equally from an economic perspective as well.  

Much of our efforts in the environmental advocacy space are through supporting initiatives that behoove our growers, such as signing conservation letters. By doing so, YCH is voluntarily using our voice as a positive force of change. By joining these coalition efforts, we are committing to defend these wild and scenic places from forestry mismanagement, mining near pristine waterways, and ensuring proper river management is intact to enable native fish populations to regenerate. Keeping our waterways free of pollution ensures our growers and brewers have access to clean water to make great beer. By protecting the source, we protect the pint. 

Change is incremental, but 2023 was a monumental year for conservation in the Pacific Northwest! 

In the last year alone, YCH publicly supported ten conservation letters to protect and defend waterways in the Pacific Northwest. These letters helped to support the approval of 4,000 acres of state forest lands managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources to be protected under the Trust Land Transfer (TLT) program. Our friends at Washington Wild secured nearly $20 million for the program, to which six conservation projects were allocated funding. Those projects are in the Olympic Peninsula, Chapman Lake area near Spokane, and the Upper Dry Gulch region near Chelan.  

YCH proudly backed Washington Wild in its collaboration with over 240 diverse stakeholders. Through their joint efforts, which garnered almost 300 public comments solely from our supporters, Washington Wild played a pivotal role in spearheading the grassroots initiative to designate the Cascade, Green, and Napeequa Rivers as Washington State's inaugural Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW). This significant ORW designation stands as a crucial safeguard, preventing any prospective deterioration of water quality in these rivers. 

“Through the Brewshed® Alliance, Washington Wild collaborates with breweries and beer industry businesses to protect our natural world. By signing onto conservation-oriented comment letters, putting together issue-focused beers, and raising funds for Washington Wild, our Brewshed® members are contributing to conservation efforts that protect beer’s most valuable resource: clean water.” Chris Chappell, Conservation and Brewshed® Manager, Washington Wild. 
Environmental advocacy can take on many shapes and sizes, and action can mean different things to different people and organizations. Identifying ways to engage with this movement required YCH to determine how our efforts could contribute to larger impacts for environmental non-profits. Philanthropic giving is a great way to help the cause through fundraising. However, we’ve found that our biggest impact comes when we get our hands dirty and lean into what we know best - hop additions! Collaborations that benefit environmental issues are something we have grown to love and look to build upon this year. This not only allows us to engage in the environmental activism space, which we are passionate about but also allows us to connect with our brewing community on an impactful level. We look at this as finding common ground, identifying real-world issues, and providing action to address or support those issues.  
Last year we participated in a statewide collaboration with our friends from Oregon Wild where we highlighted the critical connection between clean water and great beer by partnering with ten breweries from the state of Oregon that have connections to watersheds in their region. The idea was to develop an initiative that gave breweries a platform to talk about why the water they rely on is so crucial to their beers and to help the beer-drinking public better understand that vital connection. This initiative was centered on passing the River Democracy Act, which aims to protect 3,300 miles of Oregon’s meandering waterways and watersheds, or Brewsheds®. Oregon’s rivers and streams are some of the most distinctive natural treasures the state has to offer and have always been integral to the health and vitality of communities and rural economies. By expanding Wild and Scenic designations, we can protect the health of these delicate ecosystems and high-quality water resources, all while increasing wildfire resilience and bolstering the recreation economy. Currently, only 2% of Oregon’s waterways are protected as Wild and Scenic. The River Democracy Act would increase that to 5% of Oregon’s total river miles. 

“Great beer starts with clean water. And here in the Pacific Northwest, we're fortunate to have some of the best drinking water sources in the world. But with that precious resource comes the responsibility to safeguard and protect it. When the brewing community speaks out for the protection of our forested watersheds, it really reinforces how important these waterways are to our communities, our environment, and our economy.” Jonathan Jelen, Development Director, Oregon Wild. 

As a collective, our impact is immeasurable. Let's work together to protect and conserve these ecosystems we hold so dearly. We encourage you all to raise awareness of issues impacting or influencing your business, and we would love to work with you to fight the good fight. 

We encourage you, yes you, reader, to identify ways that you can make an impact! Know that no effort is too small. Things like adding your name to a petition, volunteering your time to a local trash pick-up or signature drive, keeping abreast of current environmental challenges, and helping to spread awareness are all meaningful ways to incite change. There is a mountain of work to be done, and if we all begin to chip away together, we can turn that mountain into a molehill.