Next time you pop open a Pale Ale, you can feel a little less guilty (not that you ever should). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. announced last week that it now diverts 99.8 percent of its waste, earning it the first platinum certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council.
This was no mere feel-good eco project, but serious business – the company says its waste-management efforts resulted in $5,398,470 in avoided disposal costs and $903,308 in 2012 revenue. That’s a lot of green.
Additionally, by diverting 51,414 tons from landfill and incineration, Sierra Nevada avoided 11,812 tons of carbon dioxide, according to USZWBC. Last year, Sierra Nevada’s Terrence Sullivan told TriplePundit that the brewery captures and recycles 95 percent of all carbon dioxide produced during fermentation and then reuses it. Not too shabby.
After auditing the Zero Waste diversion processes at Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., USZWBC found that the facility is successfully reducing, reusing, recycling and composting at an unprecedented rate.
Businesses that participate in the Zero Waste Certification program strive to divert all end-use material from landfill, incineration and the environment, while achieving a minimum of 90 percent diversion based on the standards set by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA). USZWBC says Sierra Nevada is exceeding this by 9.8 percent.
“Resource conservation is important to me and I’ve always felt it’s the right way to do business,” said Ken Grossman, owner and founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. “Everyone at Sierra Nevada participates in our Zero Waste efforts and takes pride in what we do. Although we have built a great Zero Waste program, we will continue to look for ways to improve.”
Sierra Nevada says its shipping pallets are rebuilt locally and employees are given an insulated Klean Kanteen drink container and a reusable ChicoBag on their first day to help them get into the habit of reuse. The company also collects single-sided paper to turn into employee notepads, and the same boxes in which bottle caps are delivered are saved and reused to ship T-shirts.
Given the lack of regional composting facilities, Sierra Nevada became the first in the nation to install a HotRot composter, which in 2012 converted 261 tons of organic waste from the brewery and restaurant into rich compost used in the company’s estate hop field, barley field, restaurant garden and employee garden.
In April, Sierra Nevada and two-dozen other craft brewers partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to protect the Clean Water Act and support strong clean water policies. The “Brewers for Clean Water” campaign focused on protecting the brewing industry’s key ingredient: clean water. While hops and malt can be sourced elsewhere, breweries depend on local water supplies, drawn from lakes, rivers, groundwater or regional water systems, which the Clean Water Act protects.
In recent years, there have been several attempts to roll back Clean Water Act protections, which endanger clean water sources, as well as public health and resources for several industries. In joining the campaign, the brewers took the NRDC’s “Clean Water Pledge,” which acknowledges the importance of clean water and its safeguards.
Boasting more than $8.7 billion in total retail sales in 2011 from nearly 2,000 American craft breweries, the craft brewing industry is serious business. Often seen as rock stars responsible for beloved brews in some circles and local employers in others, craft brewers like Sierra Nevada bring a compelling business voice to clean water, waste and other sustainability issues. These brewers are closely tied to their communities and understand the impacts of bad policy.
Let’s be honest – beer is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Since the days of the ancient African, Egyptian and Sumerian cultures to the present, people have been brewing beer – and it is safe to say that beer will be brewed for as long as there are people. Craft brewers like Sierra Nevada are leading the way in ensuring we can maintain this tradition while both invigorating local economies and preserving the planet.
Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower).