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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
For years we’ve used the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines 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. Our certification is pending, and we’re excited for the results.
Every part of the journey – from design to completion – kept environmental impact in mind. We took the LEED criteria and ran with it, making sure our brewery excelled in water and energy efficiency, sustainable material use, construction recycling rates and indoor environmental quality. Our new brewery is not only beautiful, it’s efficient to boot!
2014 Corporate Energy Management Award-Region V
Association of Energy Engineers
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