Sierra Nevada Pushes to Earn LEED Platinum Status in N.C.

Sierra Nevada’s production facility in Mills River, North Carolina was recently awarded Platinum status for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — the highest level awarded.

From the start of construction in 2012, the facility was designed to meet minimum Silver LEED status. But, as Sustainability Coordinator Cheri Chastain said, when Gold became a strong possibility, Sierra Nevada “went for it” to become Platinum level.

“We are by no means perfect, but we have certainly pushed ourselves as far as we can and are excited about our Platinum level certification,” she said.

It took the certification farther than any other brewery has and not only included several buildings on the campus but also the brewing process equipment in their energy calculations.

“We’re very honored and humbled by this certification,” said Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman. “We’ve tried to be good stewards of the environment since our earliest days as brewers, and building a second brewery gave us the chance to start with sustainability in mind. Every day, we look at all that we do and we try to find something to improve—no matter how small. Little-by-little they add up to something that we can be very proud of.”

LEED is a one-time certification. The brewery will have to provide data back to the U.S. Green Building Council for five years to show that the systems it put in place are as efficient as expected.

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“It’s definitely hard to stay on top of all of the emerging technologies,” Chastain said. “We do our best to stay on top of things but as soon as you purchase and install something, it’s almost immediately obsolete. We are always open to better ways of doing things or a better technology but … it’s a challenge to keep up with everything.”

The LEED review board looked at several features unique to the Mills River brewery:

Energy Creation & Performance: The Mills River brewery has nearly 2,200 photovoltaic solar panels spread over the warehouse roof and on nine tree-like canopies in the main parking area. Additionally, the brewery uses Capstone Microturbine technology to convert methane biogas captured from their on-site wastewater treatment plant into electricity. Between the solar array and the microturbines, the brewery produces an average of 1 megawatt of AC power on site.

Water Use, Recovery & Treatment: A brewery-wide initiative to conserve water has reduced water consumption to only 3.5 barrels of water to make one barrel of beer, a near historic low in the brewing business. The entire campus was designed to collect rainwater runoff and either repurpose it for use as irrigation and other non-potable water needs or to store and manage runoff through an elaborate system of cisterns, underground storage, sunken gardens and bioswales, all of which lead to a system of plunge pools to further clear sediment before the water reenters the French Broad River system. The front parking areas at the brewery also consist of permeable pavers, which allow rainwater to absorb into the ground rather than cascading off and carrying sediment into the river.

Resource Recovery: The brewery works toward eliminating waste materials through extensive and ambitious recycling and composting programs. Throughout construction, the brewery was able to divert 81% of total waste away from landfills.

Building Efficiency & Indoor Environmental Quality: The construction of the building itself was carefully considered for both efficiency and to counter the energy and noise demands of the brewing environment. Panel-built concrete walls and insulation and energy efficient windows and doors help keep temperatures stable, natural light at a high level, and noise to a minimum.

“Our design and construction innovations helped with LEED certification, but most of them were things we would have done anyway simply because they were the right things to do,” Chastain said. “Earning this LEED Platinum certification reinforces those decisions and validates the time our team put into this project, but the real reward is a more sustainable brewery for generations to come.”

The main construction on the facility is complete, but the site is not yet done. In the coming months and years, the brewery plans to create outdoor hiking and biking trails, open French Broad River access and unveil an indoor music and events space for visitors to enjoy.
LEED is a globally recognized rating system for the design and construction of environmentally responsible buildings. The ratings consider a large subset of construction factors including efficiency, water performance, site management, and indoor environmental quality such as low-emitting paints, lighting control and thermal settings.

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