How to Be Sustainable in the Beer Industry: Sierra Nevada

Since its inception, Sierra Nevada has shown its commitment to sustainability as not only a serious effort but a part of their company culture. Even from its humble beginnings Sierra Nevada has worked to implement different strategies both tangible and intangible to create long term wealth for their company and community. Some of these efforts include packaging, sustainable energy production and a solid waste diversion program intended to reduce the amount of solid waste that reaches landfills. Sierra Nevada states that, “Everything we used was built or repurposed for the brewery. Back then, “reduce, reuse, recycle” wasn’t a catchphrase but a business model. This hardscrabble ethos and our roots in scenic Northern California helped solidify our commitment to the environment.” This effort has been supported through an annual sustainability report that the company publishes and is viewable here (www.sierranevada.com) It’s nice to see a company who can show more transparency concerning their efforts and provide measurements for comparability. It should be noted that these reports differ among companies but they still give insight into the results from such programs. Using these results we can begin to paint a picture of how these programs can create a real impact beyond the profit maximizing principle. By observing the creative efforts of Sierra Nevada we hope to highlight ways that companies can go beyond the minimal standard and generate real change within their community.

Resource Recovery

One of the more innovative programs created was the, Resource Recovery program that uses several unique methods to reduce the amount of waste produced by the brewing process. These efforts include:recycle49

  • Organics Recycling
  • Composting
  • CO2 Recovery

These programs have allowed Sierra Nevada to reach an amazing feat, “In 2014, 99.8% of Sierra Nevada’s solid waste was diverted from the landfill through creative measures that encourage reusing, recycling and composting. We hit this high percentage through an extensive zero waste program, which includes reusing and recycling office paper, shrink wrap, scrap metal and everything in between.” This process includes the use of some creative technology in specific the HotRot composting system(www.sierranevada.com). Sierra Nevada was  the first to implement this state-of-the-art technology and had, “transformed more than 5,000 tons of organic waste from our brewery and restaurant into rich compost.”(www.sierranevada.com). These efforts are extensive but seem to be a core piece of the company adding value not only to their consumers but the company as well. Technological advances allowed Sierra Nevada to take advantage of a unique opportunity to improve its sustainability efforts.

Not only has technology improved the composting efforts of Sierra Nevada but they have utilized a CO2 Recovery system that allows them to recapture and reuse CO2 via CO2 transformation. This process has allowed Sierra Nevada to, “only need to source around a dozen tanks a year instead of 3-4 truckloads each week,” saving the environment from potential transportation externalities (www.sierranevada.com). CO2 recovery and transformation is not a new process and is explained by Chunshan Song of Pennsylvania State University, who when regarding the usefulness of CO2 transformation gives an explanation that “refers to its transformation to chemically different forms that contain the carbon of CO2 or that makes use of active “oxygen atom” from CO2.” This transformation while complicated, allows the old CO2 to be reused in a new brewing process (http://www.researchgate.net/). This unique thinking does not have to solely exist in large breweries. As seen in previous articles here, breweries have been able to come up with quirky ways to reuse and repurpose waste that would otherwise reach a landfill even at a small scale.

Sierra Nevada is only one example of a brewery making interesting and nonconventional methods for creating a more sustainable industry. Across the industry we have seen a growth in the attention and program creation. More and more we are seeing companies produce sustainability reports detailing their own specific programs with their own specific metrics. We want to urge companies and individuals to consider that these measurements may vary and there is a need for conformity in order to provide useful information.

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