Presenting at ProFood Tech in Chicago last week, Sierra Nevada sustainability manager Cheri Chastain, explained how opening its second brewery in North Carolina (completed in 2015) was a chance for Sierra Nevada, the US' third largest craft brewer, to perfect its sustainability vision.
Sierra Nevada was founded in 1980 in Chico, California, and founder Ken Grossman had a sustainable mindset from the very beginning.
Once the Chico brewery reached capacity, the company started building add-ons and “piecemealing” structures to accommodate the increased production demand.
“That kind of construction and expansion leads to tremendous inefficiencies in operations," Chastain said.
"The North Carolina brewery gave us the opportunity to stream line everything.”
The engineering team at Sierra Nevada set out to recover CO2 from the fermentation process with the purchase of $1m in new equipment from Pentair Haffmans, which the brewery expects to be paid back in about 2.5 years since they are no longer purchasing bulk CO2 from outside suppliers.
“We require a lot of CO2 in our process and we’re generating it naturally in all of our fermentation tanks,” Chastain said.
“So we thought, let’s just recover that, clean it up, bring it right back in.”
The process of brewing beer is also water-intensive and Sierra Nevada achieved a water neutral status for its North Carolina operations through the collection of rainwater via twelve cisterns, which is then used for irrigation as well as returning the water back to a nearby river, Chastain explained.
“We’re recovering the gas off the top of fermentation, we run it through the gas washer (a large enclosed column that removes any hop aromas or aromatics with a continuous spray of water),” Chastain said.
The liquid is then run through a compressor machine where it is condensed and stored liquefied.
Results for Sierra Nevada's North Carolina brewery have not been released, but the brewer saw 56% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by employing the same CO2 recovery system at its Chico facility in 2014.
The brewery was also one of 26 breweries to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification in 2016.
How does the industry define sustainability?
The Brewers Association defines a sustainable business as a balance between three factors: economic, environment & social well-being.
“Economic sustainability is the ability to support a defined level of profitability & growth to continue at an acceptable rate. Environmental sustainability is the ability to use natural resources as efficiently as possible. Social sustainability is the ability to attract & retain the best employees, provide them with a safe & prosperous place to work, and give back and support the local community.”
Cost-free sustainability steps for smaller brewers
Getting to a point where a brewery is both economically and environmentally sustainable can be perceived as a costly endeavor, but that is not always the case, according to Chastain.
Chastain said the foundation to Sierra Nevada’s sustainability success is to audit, benchmark, and track, all of which equate to little or no expense for the brewery.
“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know if you’re improving,” she said.
Tracking sustainability for the future
Sierra Nevada co-chairs the Brewers Association’s sustainability subcommittee, whose purpose is to bring sustainability tools and resources to the rest of the craft brewing community.
Through the subcommittee's benchmarking study, Sierra Nevada and the Brewers Association aim to create an online tracking system for the entire craft beer industry to reference and share sustainable management practices.