Established in 1980 with the mission to brew the highest-quality beer with the least environmental impact possible, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has been reducing waste and reusing materials in creative and thoughtful ways ever since.
Sierra Nevada’s closed-loop approach promotes a zero waste philosophy that has become part of the organizational culture. The focus on employee education, upstream management and source separation led to TRUE Platinum certifications for both locations in Mills River, North Carolina, and Chico, California.
Making zero waste a part of the culture
Sierra Nevada currently diverts 99.7% of its total solid waste from landfill and has a robust training program that touches its entire staff. In 2022, Sierra Nevada saw a net savings of roughly $290,000 (excluding spent brewers' grain) from its zero waste initiatives.
This includes a companywide impact goal that is tied to every employee’s bonus. The goal was disseminated via town hall meetings, department meetings, new employee orientations and sustainability training sessions. This ensures that using zero waste strategies is not seen by staff as a burden, but as an incentive.
Employees are encouraged to use the sustainability department and their supervisors as a resource to submit ideas and suggestions for improving zero waste programs. The brewery’s employee recognition program can be used to thank staff for “brew-tiful work” toward sustainable behavior.
A Sierra Nevada employee at a facility. Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
As a brewery, Sierra Nevada has some unusual byproducts and needs that are surprisingly well suited to a closed-loop system.
- Sierra Nevada partners with a local composter to divert organic material from landfill, and spent grain is sold as animal feed to farms within a 200-mile radius of the brewery.
- To cut down on carbon emissions, malted barley is delivered to both breweries by a rail system.
- Carbon emissions generated during the fermentation process are recovered and reused for numerous tasks, including cleaning, moving beer and assisting with bottle filling.
- Mills River helped establish the Western North Carolina Brewery Recycling Cooperative. This co-op created infrastructure for the area’s 80+ breweries to recycle common industry wastes currently going to landfill.
Learn more about how Sierra Nevada approaches low-impact brewing: