Pick any brewery in California and chances are they’re going the extra mile for our environment. Most California breweries are active in recycling materials, reducing water use, and lowering energy consumption. However, five of them stand above the crowd for their unique environmental commitment.
All five have won plenty of awards for their beers as well as driving their businesses to become more environmentally sustainable.
Any discussion of environmentally friendly breweries has to start with Sierra Nevada. The craft brewing pioneer embarked on numerous projects to reduce its impact on the surrounding environment. This includes natural gas fuel cells, solar panels on the brewery roof, CO2 recovery equipment, and diverting all but 0.3% of its solid waste away from landfills. Sierra Nevada even built its own private rail spur so trucks could load grain destined for the brewery only two miles away, drastically reducing energy required for brewery delivery.
Sierra Nevada’s sustainability efforts go far beyond its brewery walls. Other breweries have come far and wide to consult with Sierra Nevada about increasing environmental sustainability, including California’s Stone Brewing, Colorado’s Great Divide Brewing, and Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery. Even Scotland’s Brew Dog Brewery came across the pond to learn from Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada’s influence extends beyond the world of brewing, as companies such as Hershey, Ocean Spray, and Smucker’s have come to Chico to discover things they can use in their respective factories to become better environmental citizens. It’s all what Sierra Nevada’s Sustainability Coordinator Cheri Chastain describes as “sharing what we are doing so others embrace it and engage in these activities.”
Stone is known for bold flavored beers and its CEO Greg Koch has a penchant for making outrageous comments. But when it comes to the environment, Stone treads lightly.
The brewery generates 30% of its power from solar panels above the roof, and has a distribution fleet of 32 box trucks, all using a
20/80 blend of biodiesel. Brewery wastewater is processed by a state of the art treatment plant, with approximately 75 percent purified and reused for cleaning, boiler feed and cooling water. Stone uses evaporative cooling on all of the brewery process refrigeration systems (approximately 3.5 million BTUs of refrigeration), saving substantial electricity in the heat of summer, a process supplied 100 percent by reclaimed brewery wastewater.
Eel River Brewing
Homebrewers Ted Vivatson and Margeret Frignon founded Eel River Brewing in 1995. In 1999 they brewed their first organic beer. “An amber ale was picked as our first organic beer, as it was the only one we could brew with the organic ingredients available at the time,” recalled Ted Vivatson.
Believing strongly in the benefits of organic ingredients, Vivatson and Frignon’s brewery
became fully certified as organic, becoming the first organic brewery in the United States. Vivatson strives to overcome what he calls the carrot analogy. “ Years ago when I worked in a co-op, you could buy great looking non-organic carrots for 50 cents, or beat up looking organic carrots for 75 cents. People think organic means paying more and settling for less, and we need to overcome that perception.”
For several years, Eel River’s brewery was completely powered by a biomass plant, but a recent bankruptcy by another party caused Eel River to lose access to it. Eel River is currently negotiating with PG&E to reconnect to this clean power source.
In 2010, organic brewery Bison Brewing became the first brewery to become a Certified B Corporation, requiring a rigorous certification process. Member companies include Ben & Jerry’s and Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing (think Fat Tire). Bison Brewing likes to point out that consuming a six-pack a week of organic beer causes the conversion of 1,700 square feet of land from conventional to organic agriculture.
“The challenge for an organic brewer is what I call the crayon box problem,” describes Bison Brewing owner and brewmaster Daniel Del Grande. “Many hop varieties are susceptible to mildew, so are very difficult to grow organically. So it’s as if, as an organic brewer, I have a box of crayons with 24 different colors, and I have to draw a picture as beautiful as a non-organic brewer who has the big box of 108 different crayons.” The good news for beer drinkers who want to keep it organic is that new organic varieties of hops are continually being certified.
Anderson Valley Brewing
The first thing you’ll notice opening a bottle of Anderson Valley beer is the bottle cap proudly proclaiming “Solar Powered Beer”. Nearly half the brewery is powered by solar panels adorning the brewery roof installed in 2006. The brewery has been awarded the California Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) award multiple times, and has its own waste water treatment plant. All treated waste water is used to irrigate the surrounding 28 acres of brewery grounds.
Other efforts to reduce environmental impact include using bottles with 65% recycled content and packaging beer in aluminum cans, which require less energy to ship. The brewery also recycles plastic wrap, paper, steel, glass and plastic bottles.
— Derrick Peterman