Green Suds: Making Beer Brewing Less Wasteful

For many large companies, sustainability can be a buzz term, a simple marketing ploy for sympathy and sales. For Sierra Nevada, the widely-distributed craft beer out of Chico, California, sustainability actually appears to mean something. We stopped in Sierra’s headquarters to see what environmental brewing looks like. Many of the raw ingredients (hops and barley) are sourced locally or via ultra-efficient shipping routes. Recycled paper is used for packaging. And the roof of the facility is covered with more than 10,500 solar panels—one of the largest privately-owned solar installations in America.

“We think in closed loop systems,” Cheri Chastain, Sierra’s sustainability manager, told me. “We take the byproduct of everything we do and think about how we can use it in another process.” That means that spent hops are used for compost to grow more hops and barley. Gasses from fermentation are captured and harnessed and put back into the brewing process for things like moving liquids or pressurizing tanks. Other brewing leftovers are fed to cows, which are then served, in the form of burgers, in the adjacent restaurant. Sierra’s president and brew master Ken Grossman has admitted that brewing will never be completely footprint-less, considering the quantities of water and energy used. But he’s still willing to invest to make his process less wasteful. That is, as long as people keep drinking beer.

Changing Planet