Partner Spotlight: Sierra Nevada
Built on Sustainability… and Really Good Beer
To some, when the beer is cold and the weather is hot, it is debatable if there is such a thing as “a bad beer.” Regardless of where you stand on that front, there is zero debate over the absolute existence of really good beer, and it is well known that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company brews world-renowned beer that exceeds really good. The company’s drive to push the boundaries and innovations of craft beer and create the highest-quality, most flavorful beers is fully complemented by the drive to run a business that relentlessly pushes the boundaries and innovations of sustainability.
The roots of Sierra Nevada began growing in the 1960s. Fuelled by an innate infatuation with, and passion for beer, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s founder Ken Grossman began learning the art of homebrew in the 1970s through lessons from the father of a close friend. Eventually, he and business partner Paul Camusi decided to take their homebrew beyond the basement and gathered $50,000 in loans from friends and family to rent a 3,000 square foot warehouse, where they pieced together discarded dairy equipment and scrap metal to create Sierra Nevada’s first brew house. As the company notes, “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, it was a business model.” Inspired by hiking in the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains surrounding his home in Chico, California, Grossman named the company after the mountains and began selling the first Sierra Nevada beer in 1980. Now, Sierra Nevada is one of the largest craft brewing companies in the US, but every step of the way in the past and planned in the future, Sierra Nevada takes into account that which inspires every brew: the marvel of the environment, the significance of local communities, and the sustainability of both.
Sierra Nevada’s Sustainability Manager Cheri Chastain describes, “Sustainability, at its core, is to sustain oneself – in our case it’s our ability to sustain ourselves as a thriving business. More of a mindset and philosophy than a specific initiative or practice, sustainability is a core value for Sierra Nevada and we foster a sense of responsibility through this value. We have sustainability initiatives that touch every facet of our business from brewing and production, to packaging and warehousing, to supply chain, industry, and consumer engagement. It is important to Sierra Nevada to not only grow as a healthy business, but that we do so in a way that beneficially impacts our surrounding communities and protects our natural resources. We are mindful of our actions and how those actions impact the world around us. Of course, while enjoying a good beer along the way!”
The company breaks down targets of Sustainability into sectors such as energy, resource recovery, transportation, water recovery, and packaging. In addition to other renewable energy sources, the Chico brewery in California boasts 10,751 solar panels, which supply 20% of the brewery’s electricity, the equivalent of powering 265 average American households for a year. In an initiative to reduce impacts of transportation, Sierra Nevada opened a second brewery in Mills River, North Carolina just outside of Asheville. Opening its doors in 2014, the Mills River Brewery is LEED Platinum certified and runs completely off of such renewable energy sources as a solar array and biogas from the building’s wastewater treatment plant. Both breweries incorporate massive energy efficiency measures through heat recovery units on boilers, microturbines, and brew kettles that capture energy that otherwise would be lost, installing devices on large motors, pumps, and lighting that conserve energy by automatically adjusting to demand, and integrating large amounts of natural light into building design. In the breweries, Sierra Nevada diverts 99.8% of solid waste from landfills through creative measures of reusing, recycling and composting. The Chico brewery was the first facility to achieve Platinum Zero Waste certification from the US Zero Waste Business Council in 2013, and the new Mills River brewery followed suit in 2016 soon after the launch operation.
In the fall of 2013, two of Sierra Nevada's purchasing agents, Char Rosman and Trista Thomas came out from Chico to visit Recover’s Hickory warehouse. Upon seeing the ins and outs of the 100% recycled sustainable apparel company, Recover soon became an official apparel partner of Sierra Nevada. Distinguishing why the company chooses Recover, Sierra Nevada’s Sustainability Manager Cheri Chastain describes, “Like Sierra Nevada, Recover doesn’t treat discards as wastes; instead, it treats them as resources. We look for creative ways to reduce waste, reuse materials, and recycle what we can. Recover embraces a business model in which a discard is turned into something useful.” Sierra Nevada emphasizes high quality and sustainability, not only in their beer, but in every part of their business- this yielded a perfect fit with Recover. Starting with the Recover Tee for their Beer Geek tours, Sierra Nevada has since expanded into Recover Sport Tees, Long Sleeve Tees, Polos, Hoodies, and the new Recover 1/4 Zips. Every product added to the Sierra Nevada line including the Beer Geek tees has stayed, and the partnership continues to grow.
In order to get a “Beer Geek tee,” one has to indulge in a Sierra Nevada Beer Geek tour. In addition to tours, the company also offers “Beer Camp,” “an adult day camp” including, games, a ropes course, keg bowling, local food, live music, and of course: beer. The Mills River brewery is also working on guest hiking and mountain biking trails. Upon purchasing their North Carolina brewery property, Sierra Nevada immediately sent their Natural Resources Department to develop a plan to restore the relatively unhealthy forest by removing non-native and invasive species, developing measures to support the health of the existing native plants, and replanting cleared areas. The regeneration is already well on its way and the venue in the forest and along the French Broad river will provide some extraordinary trails. The brewery itself is certainly a growing pride of North Carolina.
Sierra Nevada’s sustainability awards and initiatives are too numerous to count. But, they’ll be the first to tell you that everything they do for the environment and local communities is part of a smart and successful business plan, as it is the sustainability of the world around us that all businesses depend upon. While standout leaders in beer and sustainability, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is always working on forging improvements and innovations in both. That must be why their beer tastes so good.