Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Mills River, North Carolina. (Photo by Bill Manley)

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s location in Mills River, North Carolina, is now the first American production brewery to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s Platinum Certification, the highest tier offered by the U.S. Green Building Council. The brewery received notice of this certification on Thursday, June 9.

The Robert Mondavi Institute at the University of California, Davis, is the only other U.S. brewery to achieve the standard, though it is primarily used for research and education. Only a handful of other American breweries have achieved any LEED certification at all. In Ireland, Diageo, makers of Guinness, had their Brewhouse No. 4 certified for LEED Platinum in 2015.

“We knew we were going to start building to try and hit a minimum of LEED Silver, but if we got anything higher, that was just high cotton,” said Bill Manley, a Sierra Nevada spokesman.

Sierra Nevada broke ground on its Mills River location in 2012, though planning for the sustainable brewery dated back to 2010. While the brewery had difficulty compensating for factors it considered out of its control (like ease of public transportation to the brewery), high recycling and reuse rates helped bolster its scoring. According to Manley, over 87 percent of construction waste was reused or recycled.

“Every stitch of wood that’s in our brewery is from trees taken from our site,” said Manley. And that was over 357,000 board feet of wood, all of which is visible in features from bar tops to benches and tables.

Manley said brewery founder Ken Grossman would fly in frequently from the brewery’s first location — founded in 1980 in Chico, California — to check on the brewery’s progress, and an integral part of his visits were Sunday morning perambulations around the construction site to make sure nothing was going to waste. As a result, other sustainability measures included giving wood from shipping crates to local artists for repurposing, and reusing screws, nuts and bolts from shipping containers for construction.

Another major sustainability feature of the brewery is its water runoff management system. It comprises cisterns and rainwater collection systems in order to use storm water for irrigation and toilets, and also filters that water through bioswales—or collections of native plants—before delivering it to the river at the base of the cliff where the brewery is located. Due to the age of the Appalachian Mountains, the range where the brewery is located, erosion due to thick layers of topsoil can be a major problem if runoff isn’t properly managed.

“Honestly, it’s not about selling beer for us,” said Manley of the certification. “We’re clearly proud of it, but is it going to sell beer? Probably not. But it’s the right thing to do. In an ideal world, it’s what companies should do.”

Bo McMillan is an editorial assistant for All About Beer Magazine

READ MORE: Breweries Earning LEED Certification