INSIDE Chico State
0 April 8, 2004
Volume 34 Number 10
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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CAPE FORUM

Sierra Nevada Brewery Models Green Technology

Introducing environmentally conscious business practices can actually be good for the bottom line, according to Ken Grossman, founder and chief executive officer of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of Butte County's largest locally owned employers and the country's ninth largest brewing company.

Speaking March 26 at the first of a three-part series on "Ethics and the Environment," sponsored by the Center for Applied and Professional Ethics (CAPE) and Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Grossman addressed this question, "Do Sustainable Practices Make Good Business Sense?"

Calling his company an "early adopter" of environmentally friendly technology, Grossman said many of his decisions have paid off for his company, although not always within his desired five-year payback period. "The long view is lacking in the policy decisions of many companies," he said. He cited lack of time as one of the reasons: "If you're busy, you don't have time to figure out these technologies."

Size is also a barrier to putting environmentally conscious policies into place, said Grossman. "We are now at a size where these technologies are affordable."

There are many simple energy-saving policies that can be implemented in any company, Grossman asserted. "Anyone can routinely clean their air conditioning filters or install motion sensors to light areas only when occupied."

Sierra Nevada's green policies, however, go well beyond the obvious. Their innovative by-product use includes feeding brewery grains to their own herd of beef cattle at CSU, Chico's University Farm, which in turn become all-natural beef specialties at the Sierra Nevada restaurant (see Inside Chico State, Nov. 21, 2002).

Manure from the cows is used to fertilize the experimental hop gardens next to the brewery, which are watered with brewery wastewater.

Brewery by-products are also sold for soil compost and for inclusion in dog food. Sludge from the fermentation process is sold to a winery for fertilizer.

Water usage is a major factor in brewing, and Sierra Nevada has several innovative water treatment methods. Ozonation produces sterile water for rinsing bottles and tanks without using chemicals or wasting water. Ultraviolet lights destroy bacteria and break down chlorine in the water.

For wastewater, Sierra Nevada voluntarily built its own wastewater treatment facility to assure that its processes add no contamination to the local water supply.

Clean air is addressed by cutting-edge technology that does not allow the company's diesel generators to emit soot or smoke into the Chico air, Grossman stated.

Sierra Nevada recycles "wherever it is practical." They reuse their six-pack carriers. The burlap that wraps their hops is recycled to beekeepers and landscapers. Pallets, shrinkwrap, and plastic straps are all recycled. Glass is crushed and taken away for melting and reforming. Oil, grease, and building materials are all sent to commercial recyclers.

Recycling has a large "hassle factor," Grossman said, which is why many businesses do not bother. Recycling requires extra labor and education for the workers, and it is often difficult to find a market for recyclables, requiring persistence that not all company owners possess.

Grossman has searched his entire operation for ways to make his company more energy efficient. Bottles are bought in bulk rather than in six-packs, because loose bottles take up half the space and reduce trucking costs. Motors, boilers, air compressors, and lights have all had energy-efficient upgrades, often with the help of the state of California, whose programs Grossman called "more progressive" than those in many areas.

Sierra Nevada's newest "early adoption" is fuel cell technology, the pioneering alternative to fossil fuels. In March, the company purchased a fuel cell, which Grossman called "a battery that runs on hydrogen." He plans to use the methane produced by the anaerobic digestion of brewing by-products to provide the hydrogen to yield 70 percent efficient electricity.

Grossman rejected what he called "PR environmentalism," where ad campaigns feature "disingenuous" environmental slogans. "We don't promote our green technologies and policies," he said. "Actions speak louder than words."

For information about other events of ethical interest in the spring 2004 CAPE Forum series, contact CAPE Director Andrew Flescher at x5534.

Francine Gair

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