A Brewery Gone Green

Ken Grossman, founder, CEO, and owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Ken Grossman, founder, CEO, and owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

No, the brewery doesn’t brew green beer, although it could, along with their flagship brew, Pale Ale, and Celebration Ale, Porter, Stout, Kellerweiss, Bigfoot, as well as many other award winning brews. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, sixth largest in the nation, is the perfect entrepreneurial model for the progressive push of “Made in America ” and at the same time, concern for the environment and self-sustainability. Sierra Nevada is probably the only major brewer with a future goal of becoming totally environmentally self-sustaining.

 Sierra Nevada Brewing CompanyProfessor emeritus Michael J. Lewis at the University of California, Davis  recognized for establishing a brewing science program widely regarded as the best in the nation, made the following comment about Sierra Nevada Brewery. “The most perfect brewery on the planet.”

The Sierra Nevada mission statement is quite simple: “Quality, craftsmanship, and flavor in everything we do.” The mission continues: “In every aspect of the brewery, we strive to be as environmentally responsible as possible. From recycling and composting, to water treatment, bio-fuel production, and water conservation we work hard to minimize our impact on the environment.”

 Sierra Nevada Brewing CompanyKen Grossman, founder, CEO, and owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, started his successful visionary journey 30 years ago in a small Chico warehouse. Today, Ken and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company are considered to be a premier pioneer and leader in the craft brewing industry.

As an avowed backpacker in his early days in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Ken has kept his abiding respect for the great outdoors and our Earth. Ken was quoted in People and Strategy: “He believes a company should pursue sustainable business practices because they benefit the social and natural environment, and because they drive the success of a company. To him, focusing on people and the planet as an integrated, strategic center improves profitability.”

In 2005, Sierra Nevada received California ’s top environmental award for sustainable practices of waste reduction and recycling and every year since 2001, Sierra Nevada won the prestigious WRAP (Waste Reduction Awards Program) award from California . However, marketing wise, Sierra Nevada doesn’t push their sustainability, since their beer is based on its evident quality and taste.

 Sierra Nevada Brewing CompanySierra Nevada ’s philosophy extends to their excellent restaurant and tap room, featuring the freshest sustainable products available by using locally sourced and organic meat, poultry, seafood and produce, maintaining relationships with growers, farmers and ranchers, insuring the best quality. The brewery maintains a two-acre organic garden to supply fresh produce to their restaurant. They reuse spent grain and yeast as cattle feed, treated water as irrigation, food scraps into compost and old promotional products as packing for shipping.

  • Solar power: In 2008, the brewery installed the largest privately owned solar arrays in the nation. Currently there are over 10,800 individual photovoltaic panels and an elevated, 3 acre, tracking system, providing about a third of the brewery’s total energy needs. In the near future, more photovoltaic panels will be added.
  • Fuel Cells: In 2005, Sierra Nevada was the first brewery in the nation to install hydrogen fuel cells. Direct fuel cell technology allows the brewery to produce electricity utilizing a highly efficient and extremely low-emission process. Co-generation boilers recover exhaust heat energy, providing steam for brewing operations. The combination of solar and fuel cell energy production allows the brewery to produce more than half of all the energy needs on-site.
  • CO2-Recovery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. installed a carbon dioxide recovery plant to recover and reuse CO2. CO2 is produced naturally in beer fermentation and is usually vented into the atmosphere. The brewery’s state-of-the-art system allows them to capture, purify, and reuse the gas, producing CO2 of much higher purity than available gas for the brewing process.
  • Organic Recovery: Spent grain, hops, and yeast are sold locally to cattle farmers. The brewery maintains its own herd of naturally raised cattle, along with a little beer– to be used in the Restaurant and Taproom. Sierra Nevada installed the first HotRot composting system in the US in 2010. HotRot turns compost very quickly into a rich compost from the brewery’s waste organic products, for use in the hop fields and restaurant garden.
  • Biogas Recovery: The anaerobic digestion of the waste water treatment process produces a methane-rich biogas that the brewery recovers and uses as a fuel source for their boilers.
  • Water Treatment: Beer is over 90% water. Traditionally, breweries are notoriously wasteful of precious water. Sierra Nevada , through simple conservation, mindfulness, engineering efforts, water recycling, flow meters, and drip irrigation, is able to reduce water consumption to historic lows in the brewing industry.
  • Jerry DruckerEfficient Shipping: In 2009, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. purchased the first Peterbilt Hybrid diesel-electric vehicle. Sierra Nevada is a member of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Smartway program, a voluntary way to score fuel efficiency for their fleet and shippers.

If President Obama wants to push ahead into the new century regarding a self-sustaining “Made in America,” energy policy, there is no better example than the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico , California , to hold a Beer Summit.

Jerry Drucker


  1. Gay Lannon says

    A very uplifting and inspiring article. (If I only drank beer!!!!) I hope other companies take a look at this, anything is possible if you have the will to do it.
    Another home run for Jerry.

  2. says

    These guys make great beer too! Sierra Nevada will thrive when so many others will not because of their shortsighted goals of profit and greed that trumps wise business practices. Thanks for a great article!

  3. says

    Here is a company that is a role model for other businesses. The progressive consumer can drive the market place by choosing more environmentally friendly products. Thank you Jerry for detailing their operations and love of our planet.

    • Jerry Drucker says

      Thanks Margie,

      It’s progressive companies like Sierra Nevada Brewery that is leading the way for our country. Let’s hope other U.S. companies will follow their lead.


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