A Gold Standard That’s A Tough Act to Follow
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s (SNBC) mission is to produce the finest quality beers and ales while being a good corporate citizen and environmental steward. Founded in Chico, California in 1980, SNBC is a pioneer of the craft brewing movement and of a successful sustainable business model. With a zero waste philosophy SNBC strives to not only reduce solid waste from their facility, but extends a zero waste approach to every other facet of brewery operations, including energy, water, time, raw ingredients, steam, packaging, and, most importantly, beer. To do this, SNBC seeks to recover by-products from one process and recycle them back into other processes.
With an average of 285 days of sun annually, the Northern California climate provides the perfect setting for solar power. Sierra Nevada started taking advantage of the ample Chico, CA sun in 2007 and has one of the nation’s largest privately-owned solar installations. SNBC’s solar systems now include over 10,500 individual photovoltaic panels capable of producing up to 1.5 Megawatts of AC electricity. In 2011, the solar panels produced 2,357,241 kWh of electricity for the brewery. SNBC has even installed solar panels on their on-site daycare facility and rail facility.
The brewery’s hydrogen fuel cell installation – installed in 2005 – can provide an additional 1 Megawatt of AC electricity to brewing operations. To enhance the fuel cell’s efficiency, heat recovery units recover the 750°F exhaust leaving the units and produce steam that is recycled back into the brewing process. In 2011, the fuel cells produced 6,158,838 kWh of electricity for the brewery. The fuel cells, coupled with the solar panels produce more than two thirds of the brewery’s total power needs with clean and renewable sources of electricity – roughly enough to power 740 average American households.
Generating green power without emphasizing efficient use, however, yields wasted time and money. With that in mind, SNBC puts a great deal of effort into efficiency and conservation. All facility lighting has been upgraded for efficiency, motion-sensors and ambient light sensors lights have been installed; heat recovery systems on the fuel cells, boilers, and brew kettles recover waste heat and recycle it back into brewing operations; many processes throughout the brewery have been automated to reduce unnecessary run time; and equipment receives regular maintenance to ensure efficient operations.
Sierra Nevada has also closed the loop on a fermentation by-product. A CO2 recovery system captures the CO2 produced naturally during fermentation. Recovered CO2 is cleaned and recycled back into the plant
for sanitation, tank pressurizing, and as a bottle filler aid. In order to account for all other brewery CO2 emissions, SNBC joined The Climate Registry and has been voluntarily reporting their emissions since 2006.
At every stage of the brewing and packaging process SNBC attempts to reduce solid waste generation. Efforts include recycling cardboard, plastics, metals, paper, glass, cans and bottles;
utilizing spent grain, hops, and yeast for cattle feed; producing biodiesel from discarded vegetable oil from their on-site restaurant; and working with vendors to reduce the amount of waste coming in to the plant. In 2011, SNBC diverted 99.7% of their total solid waste from landfill through creative reuse, recycling, and composting efforts. Sierra Nevada’s most recent resource recovery program is a HotRot composting system which composts all discarded organics from SNBC’s on-site restaurant, all employee break rooms, and a little bit of grain and hops from manufacturing. Finished compost is used on the on-site restaurant garden and hop field to create a fully closed loop on organics within the brewery.
Because transportation has a sizable environmental footprint, SNBC takes every step possible to decrease that impact. In 2008 the brewery built its own rail spur and rail car unloading facility less than two miles from the brewing plant to bring in malted barley from Canada. In addition to shipping malt by rail, SNBC also utilizes intermodal transportation to ship much of its finished product to the east coast. Rail has proven to be almost 50% cleaner than over the road travel and is quite cost effective.
Sierra Nevada is committed to leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible. Not only does SNBC’s sustainability program reach every corner of operations, but employees are educated and empowered to continuously make environmental improvements both professionally and personally.