Sustainability Overview

Sustainability Overview

In the early days, there was no such thing as small-scale brewing equipment. Everything we used was built or repurposed for the brewery. Back then, “reduce, reuse, recycle” wasn’t a catchphrase but a business model. This hardscrabble ethos and our roots in scenic Northern California helped solidify our commitment to the environment. We have been recognized locally, statewide, and nationally for our commitment to reducing our environmental impact. Although we have proven to be a leader in environmental sustainability, we are always looking for the next step we can take to be more efficient.


Sustainability Overview

In the early days, there was no such thing as small-scale brewing equipment. Everything we used was built or repurposed for the brewery. Back then, “reduce, reuse, recycle” wasn’t a catchphrase but a business model. This hardscrabble ethos and our roots in scenic Northern California helped solidify our commitment to the environment. We have been recognized locally, statewide, and nationally for our commitment to reducing our environmental impact. Although we have proven to be a leader in environmental sustainability, we are always looking for the next step we can take to be more efficient.



Solar Panels

Our Chico, CA, brewery houses one of the largest privately-owned solar arrays in the country. The 10,751 panels cover enough rooftop space to span 3.5 football fields and supply 20% of the brewery’s electricity, the equivalent of powering 265 average American households for a year. In Mills River, NC, we have a comparatively modest collection of 2,200 panels including freestanding “solar trees” in our parking lot.

Microturbine Technology

Running off natural gas in Chico and biogas produced from our wastewater treatment plant in Mills River, each brewery uses microturbine technology to generate electricity. Chico’s system of 10 microturbines* has a generating capacity of two megawatts compared to Mills River’s two units that generate nearly one-half megawatt. Between the two systems, the energy output of our microturbines could power 40,000 60-watt light bulbs for one hour.

*Chico’s system will be installed and operational in 2016

Energy Efficiency

At both of our breweries, we incorporate energy efficiency practices in a variety of systems. Heat recovery units on boilers, microturbines, and brew kettles capture energy that otherwise would be lost, and devices on large motors and pumps conserve energy by automatically adjusting to demand. Lighting also plays a key role in cutting down on wasted electricity. Ambient light sensors adjust electric lighting based on the amount of natural light coming through large windows and skylights throughout the brewery. We further conserve energy by using motion sensors and timers to ensure lights are off when we’re not using them.

Resource Recovery

  • HotRot

In 2014, 99.8% of Sierra Nevada’s solid waste was diverted from the landfill through creative measures that encourage reusing, recycling and composting. We hit this high percentage through an extensive zero waste program, which includes reusing and recycling office paper, shrink wrap, scrap metal and everything in between. The US Zero Waste Business Council certified our Chico brewery as a platinum level Zero Waste Facility in 2013.

Organics Recycling

We use at least 150,000 pounds of malted barley and 4,000 pounds of hops to brew our beer each day – a huge amount of potential waste. Instead of landfilling, we send the spent brewing ingredients as feed to local cattle and dairy farms.


Our Chico brewery is home to the first HotRot composting system in the U.S. Since it was installed in 2010, the state-of-the-art system has transformed more than 5,000 tons of organic waste from our brewery and restaurant into rich compost which is then used in our Estate hop field, barley field and garden.

In Mills River, we are fortunate to partner with a local composting company. We then close the loop by purchasing compost from the same company for landscaping and gardening.

CO2 Recovery

Sierra Nevada makes every effort to recover CO2 produced during fermentation and recycle it back into the brewery instead of transporting purchased CO2 from miles away. At our Chico brewery, we capture and reuse so much CO2 that we only need to source around a dozen tanks a year instead of 3-4 truckloads each week. Soon, Mills River will practice the same recovery efforts.


Our new brewery in Mills River, NC, was the most impactful effort we’ve made to reduce transportation emissions across the country, but we continue to look for ways to reduce further and improve efficiency. We transport beer via rail when possible to limit truck emissions and each brewery receives grain at its own private rail spur. To make the most of the road, our trucks are never empty – we drop off beer and then pick up packaging materials for the return trip. Trucks are also equipped with the latest and cleanest technology including fenders, flares, reduced drag mud flaps, and speed regulators.

Alternative Transportation

Every drop of used vegetable oil from our restaurants is converted into biodiesel. In Chico, we make biodiesel on site then use it in our beer delivery trucks. In Mills River, we’ve partnered with a local biodiesel manufacturer who sells biodiesel locally. For our brewery guests, we have electric vehicle charging stations free to anyone with an electric car. We also designed bicycle maintenance stations using recycled beer kegs so our visitors can tune up before heading home.

Water & Biogas Recovery

As one of the primary ingredients in beer, and a vitally important resource, water is always on our mind. We’re working to bring our water usage down to historic lows in the brewing industry.

Stormwater Management

To accommodate the vast amount of rainfall at our Mills River, NC, brewery, we created an extensive stormwater recovery system. Permeable pavers allow water to percolate into groundwater supplies and nearly 530,000 gallons of cistern space captures rainwater from the rooftops and paved surfaces. The water is then distributed around the brewery for non-potable uses. Excess water is channeled into the nearby French Broad River through an engineered stream, offering cleaner water to the river and helping to prevent erosion.

Water Treatment

In Chico and Mills River, on-site wastewater treatment facilities take effluent water from each brewery and pre-treat it before sending it to the municipal treatment facility. Biogas produced from the wastewater treatment process is recovered and then used to fuel our boilers at both breweries and our microturbines in Mills River.


There is a lot more to packaging than how it looks – strategic changes have allowed us to reduce weight, save material, and preserve the quality of our product. We source packaging containing the highest amount of recycled content while still meeting our high standards for quality and we work with local vendors whenever possible.

We launched our Pale Ale and Torpedo® Extra IPA in cans in 2012, and our Nooner® Pilsner in 2015. Both cans and bottles have excellent sustainability attributes: they are easily recyclable in most parts of the country and have high recycled content. Cans, however, do not break, making them more suitable for outdoor adventures, and their lighter weight reduces transportation impacts.

Draught beer, sold in stainless steel kegs, is always the most sustainable package. Kegs are infinitely reusable without degrading beer quality. From both of our breweries, drinkers can take home draught beer in growlers which are also reusable. Avoid single-use plastic cups to really reduce your impact!

Beer Ingredients & Agriculture

  • Estate hop field
  • Estate grain field

We believe that the best beers begin with the best possible ingredients. With an eye toward the environment, responsible farming and our agricultural future, we continually work with our growers in order to foster and support sustainable farming practices to produce the highest quality crops.

Despite our relatively small size, we use more whole-cone hops than any other brewer in the world. Additionally, we only brew with hops bred using traditional methods and non-genetically modified barley.

Homegrown Ingredients

We began growing hops experimentally in Chico in 2002, with a three-acre test plot. We took this homegrown approach a step further in 2008 by planting our own 30-acre barely field. Clearly bitten by the farming bug, we now have 11 acres of hops and nearly 100 acres of crop space slated for barley.

The brewery as well as our hop and barley fields have been certified organic by Oregon Tilth. Our Estate® Homegrown IPA, brewed with the hops and barley grown at our Chico brewery, was our first certified organic beer and remains one of the only estate ales in the world.

Estate Gardens

When it comes to the produce and herbs used at our brewery restaurants, they couldn’t get more local. Our restaurants in both Chico and Mills River feature ingredients harvested right from our own gardens that follow organic and sustainable farming practices. We fertilize the gardens with compost produced from our spent organic materials, creating a seamless loop.

Outdoor Spaces

Spending time in the great outdoors is inherently sustainable – it gets you moving and develops connections with your environment. Our culture has always been deeply rooted in nature; our name itself pays homage to the spectacular mountain range that first inspired our founder, Ken Grossman.

Mills River Forest Restoration

When we took a closer look at the forest on our Mills River, NC, property, we found it was actually quite unhealthy. One of the first teams in place at the brewery was our Natural Resources Department which was tasked with bringing the forest back to a healthy state by removing non-native and invasive species, supporting the health of the existing native plants and replanting cleared areas.

Mills River Recreation

With Mills River’s breathtaking forest setting, we wanted to balance work with outdoor play. Our amphitheater allows visitors to enjoy live music while breathing in the Carolina air, and outdoor patios behind the brewery provide an inviting place to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. Also in the works: guest hiking and biking trails. Stay tuned.

LEED Certification


For years we’ve used the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) green building program as a resource throughout the many expansions of our Chico brewery, although it has not been certified. Our second home in Mills River afforded us the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to responsible building operations and pursue LEED® certification from the beginning.

In June 2016, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was the first production brewery in the US to be LEED® certified, Platinum —the highest level awarded—for its Mills River, North Carolina, brewing facility.

LEED® is a globally recognized rating system for the design and construction of environmentally responsible buildings. The ratings evaluate a large subset of construction factors including sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovative designs. By including brewing equipment in energy model calculations, Sierra Nevada took the certification further than any other brewery has before.

Many of the brewery’s design aspects and construction innovations were simply the right thing to do and were part of the plan before we decided to pursue LEED® certification. Having a third party organization verify and validate these efforts is essential in creating a more sustainable built environment and recognizes Sierra Nevada’s founding commitment to environmental stewardship.


  • Alternative transportation considerations – we have provided ample bike parking for both employees and guests and installed two electric vehicle charging stations with preferred parking.
  • Stormwater management – the entire brewery site was designed to collect and manage rain water which is repurposed for irrigation and other non-potable water uses. The collection system utilizes both above- and below-ground cisterns to store water and prevent runoff and sediment loading in the French Broad River with bioswales, sunken gardens, permeable pavement, and a series of plunge pools which slow excess water as it makes its way to the river.
  • A conscious effort was made to reduce our heat island effect (not contributing more heat to our environment than surrounding areas) as well as to reducing light pollution from our facility and the grounds.


  • Potable water use reduction – by using captured rain water to flush toilets and for landscape irrigation, installing low flow toilets and faucets and making highly efficient brewing and kitchen equipment selections, our Mills River brewery has reduced potable water consumption by at least 40% over what a traditional building would have used.
  • Landscaping – although all of the brewery’s landscaping is irrigated by captured rain water, only native and low–water-use plants were used which further reduces water consumption and allows more rain water to be used for other non-potable needs.


  • Optimizing energy performance – in true Sierra Nevada fashion, we pioneered a way to calculate just how energy efficient a brewery can be. Using recent equipment purchases and manufacturer energy calculations, we built a theoretical brewery to derive an energy model of typical energy usage within a brewery our size. We then compared the model brewery to our actual brewery to illustrate how heat recovery and recycling, automation, and process controls can have a significant impact on energy conservation. We estimate that our new brewery will be 49% more efficient than our theoretical brewery.
  • On-Site renewable energy – we have installed nearly 2,200 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of our warehouse and on nine tree-like canopies in the public parking area. Additionally, we use Capstone Microturbine technology to convert methane biogas captured at our on-site wastewater treatment plant into electricity. Between the solar array and the microturbines, we can produce up to one megawatt of AC power for brewery electricity needs, an estimated 32% of the facility’s total electricity needs.
  • Green power – purchased electricity is offset by renewable energy certificates that fund local solar projects through NC Green Power.


  • Construction waste management – through extensive and ambitious recycling and composting programs during construction, the brewery was able to divert 81% of waste from the landfill.
  • Recycled content – Although all of the timber that was cleared from the site to allow for construction was repurposed into doors, trim and furniture for the brewery, those materials did not count in our total recycled content credit. Eleven percent of the total building material content, by value, was manufactured with recycled materials.
  • Regional materials – throughout the entire construction project, we relied heavily on our local community for building materials and the crews that did the heavy lifting; 21% of the total building materials and products were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the project site.


  • Low emitting materials – adhesives, sealants and flooring were all selected to reduce concentrations of chemical contaminants that can damage air quality, human health, productivity and the environment.
  • Controllability of systems – lighting and thermal comfort systems were designed in a way to allow occupants to control their spaces in an energy efficient manner.

The LEED® Certification trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council and is used with permission.


2016 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum, Mills River Brewery
US Green Building Council

2015 Sustainable Business of the Year
Sacramento Area Sustainable Business Council

2015 NC Green Travel – Breweries, Mills River Brewery
North Carolina Environmental Quality

2014 Corporate Energy Management Award-Region V
Association of Energy Engineers

2013 Platinum Zero Waste Certification, Chico Brewery
US Zero Waste Business Council

2013 Corporate Sustainability Award
NorCal Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers

2012 Outstanding Closing the Loop Commitment
California Resource Recovery Association

2011 Gold Achievement Award - Organic Materials Reduction
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

2001-2011 WRAP (Waste Reduction Award Program)
State of California

2010 Green Business of the Year
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Region 9

2010-2011 Most Cycle-Friendly Place to Work in Chico
City of Chico

2009 Sustainable Plant of the Year
Food Engineering Magazine

2009-2015 Bicycle-Friendly Business (Silver)
League of American Bicyclists

2008 Clean & Green Award
PG&E®, New California 100

2008 Flex Your PowerSM Award
State of California

2008 Zero Waste Achievement Award
California Resource Recovery Association

2008 Climate Action Champion Award
California Climate Action Registry

2005 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for Sustainable Practices
Governor of California