No one would ever confuse Guinness with Sierra Nevada. Guinness, of course, is famous for its dark ruby red (verging on black) stout and cheeky, vintage “My Goodness My Guinness” posters, while Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is likely best known for its pale ale. Guinness has been brewing in Dublin for more than 250 years, while Sierra Nevada set up shop in Chico, California, in 1980. Guinness is now owned by the multinational beverage company Diageo. Sierra Nevada, meanwhile, is independently owned and is the third-largest craft beer producer in the United States.
The two companies have something in common, however: Both want to brew the highest-quality beer, and they want to do it while using as few resources as possible.
Brewing is a resource-intensive process for obvious reasons, creating mammoth demands for water usage, wastewater treatment, power and cooling, and transportation. Like companies across many industries, brewers—including both small craft brewers and large multinational producers—are looking to cut costs, boost their reputations, and simply create positive change by reducing the environmental impact of their operations.
Guinness and Sierra Nevada have been particularly active in this arena, not only tweaking their operations to conserve resources, but also pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification on recent major building projects. Guinness’s Brewhouse No. 4 at the company’s iconic St. James’s Gate location in Dublin, Ireland, opened in 2014 and was certified LEED Platinum in 2015. Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in Mills River, North Carolina, also opened in 2014 and achieved LEED Platinum certification in early 2016. The facilities are, respectively, the first major brewery in the world, and the first in the United States, to receive the highest LEED designation.
“This is the fourth [Guinness] brewhouse since 1759,” says Michael Wilson, global environmental sustainability director for Diageo. “As a brewing business, a lot of our facilities were built in the last century, or even the 1800s. This was an opportunity, with a new build, to implement new practices, rather than trying to retrofit an older building. It’s not easy to retrofit with modern technology and design techniques.” This new build from a brownfield site was an opportunity for Diageo to incorporate some of those best sustainable practices.
“[Sierra Nevada’s headquarters facility in] Chico has been under construction pretty much continuously since the mid-1980s,” says Cheri Chastain, sustainability manager for the craft brewer. “There’s always an expansion happening here. With Mills River, we were coming into a new community. Chico knows us, and they know how we do things. We wanted to set the stage to show [that] this is how Sierra Nevada does business. We made the decision that we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do it right, and we’re going to get that third-party validation that tells us that we did it right.”