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Sierra Nevada Brewery; Sustainability and “Green” Business Practices Realized
By Cary Black


What is up with sustainability and “going green”? Everywhere we see these words as the“green” phenomenon becomes more prolific in industry and manufacturing. The ability to reduce waste, generate self sustaining energy, and approach business from an eco-friendly approach appears to be an emerging trend in many of today’s businesses. Their approaches may become the salvation to our children’s lifestyles and lives as we turn to the century ahead. It is time.

It is amazing the volume of natural resources that go into American businesses. The statistics are abhorrent. North America contributes approximately 30% of global CO2 emissions while representing about 6% of the world’s population.

As a result of global climate change, political chaos, and resource limitations, successful companies are making a transition to a more sustainable way of doing and maintaining their businesses and producing their products. It is time or such activities…and their efforts should be acknowledged. Their efforts pave the way to a sensible future for us and our children.sierra nevada brewery
The California based beer brewing company Sierra Nevada Brewery takes a lead in their approach to sustainability. It is a particular honor for me to be writing this article as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of my all time favorite beers. In fact many of the recipes in my cookbook, “Zen and the Art of Cooking Beer-Can Chicken”, were created using Sierra Nevada products.

The Sierra Nevada brewery produced its first batch of Pale Ale on November 15, 1980. Word about the beer, its quality, and unique character spread quickly requiring manufacturing capacity expansion. The demand for the Sierra Nevada products continued to grow and as a result, the brewery moved to its current site in Chico, California.


Ken Grossman, a co-founder and current CEO, said that right from the beginning he worked to establish environmentally sensitive practices. Their first effort was in providing 100% returnable bottles. Their primary mission statement includes producing the highest quality beers and ales without compromising good corporate citizenship and environmental stewardship. As
such, their operations use such guiding principles as resource conservation, reusability and recycling.


As part of their mission, Sierra Nevada became members of the California Climate Registry which allows them to report and certify their greenhouse gas emissions. In order to reduce the emissions associated with residual electricity purchases, Sierra Nevada joined PG&E’s new ClimateSmart Program. ClimateSmart is a voluntary carbon offset program that removes the
amount of carbon and other greenhouse gasses associated with the generation of the electricity from the atmosphere.

Sierra Nevada recently completed one of the largest fuel cell installations in the United States. Four 250-kilowatt co-generation fuel cell power units are operated to supply electric power and heat to the brewery. The one megawatt power output will produce most of the brewery’s electrical demand, and the co-generation boilers harvest the waste heat and produce steam for boiling the beer and as sources for other heating needs. Because of the significant improvement in efficiency of fuel cells, air emissions are significantly reduced. Additionally, any surplus energy is sold back to the grid helping to mitigate the return on the investment.


Sierra Nevada is finishing preparations to incorporate a silicon-based 1.3 MW system of solar arrays to generate about 34% of the brewery’s power needs. This effort, coupled with the fuel cell usage is projected to supply from 80 to 100% of the power needs required to operate the brewery while still further reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.


The brewery continuously looks for ways to minimize energy usage. They retrofitted their fixtures with electronic ballast lights and motion sensors. They replaced their air compressors with ultra-efficient, speed-controlled drives all designed to maximum energy usage efficiency.inside sierra nevada brewery
The brewery was one of the first regional breweries to install a vapor condenser to recover waste steam from the kettle boiling step to preheat process water. The vapor condenser utilizes plate heat exchangers throughout the brewing process to recover energy.

The brewery has also installed state-of-the-art water treatment facilities. With the treatment technology, Sierra Nevada has been able to reduce their water usage to over half typical usage of most breweries in the country. The methane generated from the anaerobic digestion of the wastewater is put back into use at the on-site fuel cells. The methane is used a fuel source within
the cells.


In 2006, Sierra Nevada Brewing recycled over 97% of their waste, including 631,490 lbs. of cardboard, 528,320 lbs. of glass, 4320 lbs. of office related waste, 25,900 lbs. of plastic shrink wrap, and 40,630 lbs. of plastic strapping. Additionally, most of the spent brewing materials find their way to the local agricultural community as fertilizer and high protein food additives for dairy and beef cows. The surplus spent yeast from fermentation is used as a nutritional supplement for local cows, and the compost from the cow manure is used as fertilizer for Sierra Nevada’s onsite 3-acre experimental hop field.

Sierra Nevada has received the WRAP Award (Waste Reduction Awards Program) from the State of California yearly since 2001, and in 2002 was named one of the top ten recipients of the WRAP of the Year Award for the company's extraordinary waste reduction awareness programs

.also insode sierra nevada brewery
The brewery also incorporates a system to recover the CO2 that is produced by the natural fermentation process. With the recovery system, Sierra Nevada is able to recover and recycle most of the CO2 for use around the brewery and during the bottle-filling process to assist in dispensing our ales and beers.


In assessing their raw material suppliers, Sierra Nevada rewards agronomic responsibility by using suppliers that follow sensible environmental practices in their produce. From the hop fields in Yakima, Washington, to the barley fields in Canada, all suppliers are rigorously assessed for environmental stewardship in their production and growing processes.


Sierra Nevada is looking at expanding operations in creating a bio-diesel plant to provide fuel for vehicles supplying regional deliveries. The Peterbilt Motor Company has invited Sierra Nevada to conduct a trial of their new line of hybrid diesel trucks for use as feed transport. As a company, the 400 plus employees are offered incentives for riding their bicycles to work, running errands, or riding just for fun.


When asked about further improvements in their sustainability efforts, Ken reported that the company is always looking for areas to improve their sustainability efforts. Currently they are looking at expanding their recycling and composting capabilities. The company has a specific position entitled Sustainability Coordinator, currently occupied by Cheri Chastain.

When asked about the return on investment, Ken replied that the return is variable depending on the different aspects. The clear point that emerges is that the Sierra Nevada Brewery practices sustainability and a “green” approach to doing business not necessarily from a bottom line profit perspective, but because it is the right thing to do…And ultimately, that has to be good for longevity, good for business, and good for the dreams of our children.