Since its first batch of beer in 1980, Sierra Nevada Brewery has combined a quality product with green manufacturing concepts. The result has made it the 10th largest brewer in the United States and an excellent model for how well sustainability works in practice. The greening of Sierra Nevada Brewery provides a blueprint for other manufacturers wanting to be both successful and green.
A commitment to sustainability has always been a part of the award-winning brewery’s overall business plan. Owner Ken Grossman has created a manufacturing supply chain where each part is sustainable within itself, but each part also contributes to the sustainability of the other parts and the whole of the operation. The following are the basic parts:
- Input: The raw materials and supplies that come into a business
- Processing: How raw materials and supplies are processed into the final product and service
- Waste: How wastes are reused, recycled, and disposed of, and their overall effect on the environment
Sierra Nevada, based in Chico, California, uses green suppliers whenever possible. It buys materials that are biodegradable and recyclable. These include malt, yeast, hops, water, CO2, glass, pallets, cardboard, stretch wrap, and office paper. For example, its carbon dioxide recovery plant recovers CO2 gas from the fermentation process, purifies it, and reuses it in the brewing process. This creates a purer quality of CO2 than what is available from any of its commercial suppliers.
The processing part of the brewery is increasingly being operated by alternative energy sources. The brewery is installing one of the largest privately owned solar systems in the country. Located on three acres, the 500-kilowatt elevated tracking solar system helps Sierra Nevada meet its goals for clean energy.
Besides solar, the brewery also has one of the largest cogeneration fuel cell power plants in the United States. Its direct fuel cell technology provides the company a highly efficient energy source that has almost no environment footprint. This not only allows the company to fulfill its own energy needs but provides the ability to sell surplus energy back to the energy grid.
Dealing with waste is an essential part of any manufacturing process. The Sierra Nevada Brewery has installed a wastewater treatment facility that removes 95 percent of the load before it is released into the community sewer system. This once again reduces the environmental footprint.
The organic waste, such as the grains, yeasts, and hops, are recycled and reused as animal feed. In addition, the brewery uses it in its experimental program for growing its own organic hops. This ensures both the quality of the product and the ability to recycle the waste back into the supply chain. This is a key ingredient in sustainability.
Sierra Nevada’s ales are consistently rated as one of the best in the expanding business of domestic microbreweries. As a pioneer in the field, it uses the finest quality malted barley, whole hop flowers, brewer’s yeast, and pure water combined with traditional brewing techniques to produce a variety of brews. These include its award-winning pale ale, porter, stout, and barleywine, along with several types of lagers. One of these, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, won the gold medal in the commercial craft brewing competition at the 2007 California State Fair.
Sierra Nevada Brewery shows that a quality product coupled with a green manufacturing supply chain can translate into a highly successful business and that you can save money and the planet at the same time.