An Interview with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

This evening I got to chat with Cheri Chastain, the Sustainability Coordinator at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., about their ongoing efforts to reach complete sustainability at their brewery, and to do their part to help our environment. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

  • What do you do at Sierra Nevada?
    My current official title is Sustainability Coordinator; I coordinate our recycling program, I oversee our energy & water conservation programs, our storm drainage program, our green house gas emissions reports – really, anything related to the environment comes back to me. It keeps me pretty busy.
  • How did you end up at Sierra Nevada?
    Actually, I was hired as the Recycling Assistant. I went from there to Coordinator, and really it just mushroomed from there. They figured that “Sustainability” captured all of what I was doing. At the time, I didn’t have any brewing experience but I wrote my masters’ thesis on sustainability and it was certainly something I was passionate about. So when it turned out that Sierra Nevada was hiring, I jumped at the chance; it’s worked out really well.Installation of a fuel cell at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  • What is your favorite part about working at a brewery?
    Brewing produces such a wonderful product to begin with, and any opportunity I can have to make that product sustainable is awesome. I would want to work towards sustainability where ever I was but brewing, unlike other places I might have ended up, is not a dry industry, so to speak; it’s a fun industry to be in.
  • I’ve read everywhere recently that Sierra Nevada Brewing is in the process of “going green”; what exactly does that mean for you guys?
    Honestly, our owner Ken Grossman has run the brewery in a “green” fashion from the beginning. Sierra Nevada was founded using recycled dairy equipment for our brewing process; we’ve always been driven by using what’s all ready readily available to us and we’ve maintained that to this day. A lot of what we do is simply just our culture and what we do here. We’ve been working on being good environmental stewards from the beginning; it’s something we’ve done since the brewery was founded in 1979.
  • What steps are you taking to become sustainable?
    We have so many projects going on, but refining our energy process is one of the biggest; brewing takes lots of energy, largely in the form of heat. At first we worked on our lighting control systems; increasing efficiency and conservation in lighting throughout our facilities. We also have four new fuel cells on site, which produce one megawatt of power, through a blend of natural gas and methane, which is produced on site. It’s really a closed loop with the feedstock we have in our backyard. We also have brand new solar panels covering our parking lot, which produce an additional ½ megawatt of power, and we just signed a contract to begin instillation in the coming months of another megawatt of solar power on our warehouse rooftop, as well.Sierra Nevada's C02 Conservation System

    These are the biggest things that a lot of people are talking about, but we have countless other things going on here, too. We have installed a C02 conservation system to capture the C02 released during brewing, which we later reuse throughout the brewing process – from cleaning tubes to running the bottling lines, etc. We have a water treatment plant on-site; we treat all of our water before we release it into the sewers. Sierra Nevada is also researching using our used water for irrigation; I’m Working really hard to reduce our water consumption. We’ve already reduced our water usage to about half of the level used in traditional brewing practices. I’ve also focused on heat recovery because heat is such a big part of brewing. We have Heat Recovery Systems in place in 3 different spots in our brewery—on our kettles, on the new fuel cells, and on our boilers—which reduce the demand on each for heat.

Water treatment plant at the Sierra Nevada BreweryLet’s see, what else… We have an amazing recycling program – in 2006 we diverted 97.8% of our total waste, a large portion of which was spent grains & yeast which we sent to local feed lots to be used as a food additive. We even have a heard of cattle here on site that is completely organically pasture raised (which is where the methane used in our fuel cells comes from). The reality is there is not just one silver bullet that will solve all of our environmental issues, but more like 1000 silver B.B.s.

Sierra Nevada has even made efforts to reduce the waste generated through transportation to our brewery – We recently started bringing in our grain from Canada by rail rather than truck, which is less hazardous. Currently the grain is taken to about 10 miles from our brewery by rail and then driven the rest of the way, but soon that distance will be down to two miles away. Even our fork lifts are electric; we’re trying. There are so many things that we still could be doing, it’s always going to be an ongoing process.

  • I know that many “green” companies go through a certification program; did Sierra Nevada go through something similar and, if so, what was the certification process like?
    Unfortunately there is no certification program for breweries at this time. That being said, a lot of breweries across the country are doing a lot of different things, as far as sustainability is concerned, but I think we’ve really taken the lead on many things – energy conservation for one. Reaching sustainability is an intensive venture to take on; it takes an enormous amount of time and capital.
  • If it is such an intensive project to undertake, why do it? Besides the obvious impact on the environment, have you found any other benefits to sustainability?
    I think it’s actually easier for the smaller breweries to take on green initiatives. For instance, although it may be expensive initially, if you can cut your water usage and waste output in half, you cut your bills in half. All of the steps we’ve taken have turned out to be very economical in the end; breweries can take advantage of this, even if just out of necessity. It’s simple really; if you reduce usage, if you produce less waste, you don’t have to purchase as much; if you use fewer boxes, you need fewer boxes. It just makes sense on so many levels.
  • With all of these initiatives in place, what’s next for Sierra Nevada Brewing?
    Oh God, so many different things. We’re doing so much already but there are still so many opportunities. The water is a big thing, not having so much waste water. Energy is another big thing; I have to find ways to reduce our energy consumption. Last year we joined The California Climate Action Registry where we voluntarily report our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a great jumping off point to look at ways we can reduce our waste from our boilers, for example. All these goals to “going green” that people are throwing out—from being carbon neutral to reducing waste, etc.—really are great goals to have, and I’m sure we’ll peruse many of them.

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  1. Just last fall I was turned on to SN beer by a friend, and it’s GREAT! Glad you distribute to GA…. And having read a few interviews with Ken Grossman, I am impressed with his “greening” for the brew process.

    I would like to drop him a note about this, the great beer, and I noticed in the FAQs section on the company website, the mention and focus of SN’s chariatable work….. they line up with mine pretty well, and I wanted to give him a thumbs up!

    *** So, if you are comfortable in doing so, I would appreciate if you would provide his email address. I’m not a wacked out loony who would write him something offensive- I sincerely want to do the above, as well as present him with a notion to consider.

    If you are uncomfortable doing this, I certainly understand…. but I hope you have no hesitation.

    Thank you.


    Dee Henderson

  2. i have heard that there is a place in Portland that you can go, brew your own beer. then go back in 2 weeks to bottle and label it? it is similar to the place in Portsmouth. anybody heard of it?????

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